Tue, Feb 15 2011 09:29 CET
byThe Sofia Echo staff
MEPs call for shutting down of child pornography web pages throughout EU
Child pornography or child abuse material on the internet must be removed at source in all EU countries, the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee said on February 14 2011, in amendments to new EU rules that are designed to prevent abuse, stiffen penalties, and protect victims.
Where removal is impossible, for example because pages are hosted outside the EU, then EU member states may ‘prevent access’ to this material, in line with their national laws, adds the committee, the European Parliament said in a media statement.
Members of the committee made a series of amendments to a proposed EU directive to combat sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Studies suggest that between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of minors in Europe may be sexually assaulted during childhood.
‘We must strengthen prosecution, criminalise new forms of child sexual abuse, such as ‘grooming’ through social chat rooms, and above all protect child victims before, during and after criminal proceedings’, said Roberta Angelilli (EPP, IT), who is steering the legislation through the European Parliament, the media statement said.
The original European Commission proposal would have made blocking of child pornography web sites mandatory for EU member states. MEPs instead advocate removal at source and, should that prove impossible, allowing member states to ‘prevent access’ to this material.
Removal at source
The number of child pornography web sites is growing and an estimated 200 images containing child pornography are put on line every day. The children portrayed are ever younger, and the images are becoming more graphic and more violent.
EU member states must impose binding requirements to ensure the ‘removal at source of internet pages containing or disseminating child pornography or child abuse material,’ MEPs say.
The EU must also co-operate with third countries in to secure the prompt removal of such material from servers hosted in these countries, they add.
Should removal at source prove impossible (for example because the state where servers are hosted is unwilling to co-operate or because its procedure for removing the material from servers is particularly long), EU member states ‘may take the necessary measures in accordance with national legislation to prevent access to such content in their territory,’ say MEPs.
National measures preventing access ‘must be set by transparent procedures and provide adequate safeguards, in particular to ensure that the restriction is limited to what is necessary and proportionate, and that users are informed of the reason for the restriction,’ MEPs say. Content providers and users must also be informed of the possibility to appeal, and to whom to appeal, under a judicial redress procedure, they add.
Tougher penalties and ban on working with children
The new rules would introduce tougher penalties across the EU for those who sexually abuse or exploit children. The proposal sets minimum penalties for 22 criminal offences, but also allows member states to impose harsher measures and sentencing.
Offenders would face penalties ranging from two to more than 10 years in prison, depending on the crime. Since about 20 per cent of sex offenders go on to commit further offences after conviction, MEPs also stipulate that member states may impose on convicted offenders a temporary or permanent ‘ban on engaging in occupations involving any form of contact with children’.
When recruiting, employers will be entitled to obtain information on any convictions for sex crimes. After recruitment, if serious suspicion arises, employers may still request such information, even if it has to be obtained from criminal records held in other EU countries. Member states may also take other measures, such as putting in place ‘sex offenders registers’ accessible to the judiciary and/or law enforcement agencies, add MEPs.
Abuse by people in a position of trust, authority or influence over the child (for instance, family members, guardians or teachers) is included in, and punishable under, the new criminal offences. Higher sentences would also be imposed on anyone committing an offence involving children with a physical or mental disability, in a situation of dependence or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
‘Sex tourists’ travelling abroad to abuse children will also face prosecution, under the new rules on jurisdiction.
EU-wide criminalisation of ‘grooming’
New forms of abuse and exploitation, such as ‘grooming’ (befriending children through the web with the intention of sexually abusing them), or making children pose sexually in front of web cameras, will also be criminalised. MEPs have added a rule that offenders who use different means to target a great number of children so as to multiply their chances of committing the crime would face harsher penalties.
MEPs have strengthened proposed rules on assisting, supporting and protecting victims, to ensure that they have easy access to legal remedies and do not suffer from participating in criminal investigations and trials.
Raising awareness to prevent crimes
MEPs emphasise the need to prevent crime, through information campaigns, research and education programmes to raise awareness and reduce the risk of children becoming victims of sexual crimes. These measures must be addressed to all parties concerned, including children, parents and teachers, to show them how to recognise signs of sexual abuse, both online and offline. Help-lines should also be set up, adds the committee.
Negotiations between European Parliament and European Council representatives will continue in the coming months, with a view to reaching a compromise in the first half of 2011. Once adopted, this directive will replace current EU legislation dating from 2004. Member states would have two years to transpose the new rules into their national laws.