Main menu (press 'Enter')
Access to page content (press 'Enter')
Direct access to list of other websites (press 'Enter')

Budget, social issues centre stage October Strasbourg plenary

Child sex crimes: Parliament backs tougher penalties and EU-wide deletion of porn web pages

 
Files being investigated in child pornography case   Child porn web pages must go ©Belga/ANP

Child abusers and viewers of child sex images on the web will face tough penalties in the EU, under new rules approved by Parliament on Thursday. The directive will also require EU countries to remove child porn web sites, or, should this prove impossible, allow them to block access to those pages within their territory. Studies suggest that between 10% and 20% of minors in Europe may be sexually assaulted during childhood.


The directive, already agreed by MEPs and home affairs ministers, will introduce EU-wide requirements on prevention, prosecution of offenders and protection for victims. Member States will have two years to transpose the new rules into national law.


"The new directive to combat sexual abuse and exploitation of children and child pornography is an innovative legislative instrument and a step forward for the protection of our children. The text will be available to the competent authorities and NGOs, so that there is zero tolerance of all crimes against children" said Roberta Angelilli (EPP, IT), who steered the legislation through Parliament.


Tough times ahead for child sex offenders


The text sets out minimum penalties for about 20 criminal offences - far more than are usually provided for in EU legislation. MEPs fought for tougher penalties across the EU, especially in cases of abuse by persons in a position of trust, authority or influence over the child (e.g. family members, guardians or teachers) or abuse of particularly vulnerable children (e.g. those with a physical or mental disability or under the influence of drugs or alcohol).


For instance, coercing a child into sexual actions or forcing a child into prostitution will be punishable by at least ten years in prison. Child pornography producers will face at least three years, and viewers of child pornography on the web at least one year.


On-line grooming and sex tourism


On-line "grooming" (befriending children via the web with the intention of sexually abusing them) will also become a criminal offence across the EU, as will child sex tourism, where the offence is committed on a Member State's territory or by one of its nationals abroad.


Child porn web pages must go...


Member States will have to ensure the prompt removal of web pages containing or disseminating child pornography hosted in their territory. They will also have to do their best to co-operate with third countries (US and others) to obtain the removal of such pages if hosted outside the EU.


... but blocking may still be needed


However, the removal of child pornography content at its source is often not possible (e.g. because the state where servers are hosted is unwilling to co-operate or because removal would take too long). In these cases, Member States may block access to those pages for internet users in their territory, says the text agreed with the Council. These measures to block access to web pages will have to follow transparent procedures and provide adequate safeguards.


The number of web sites devoted to child pornography is growing and it is estimated that 200 images containing child pornography are put into circulation every day. Ever younger children are portrayed in pornography, and the images are becoming more graphic and more violent.


Ban on working with children


Since some 20% of sex offenders go on to commit further offences after conviction, the directive stipulates that convicted offenders "may be temporarily or permanently prevented from exercising at least professional activities involving direct and regular contacts with children".


Employers when recruiting will be entitled to request information on convictions for sexual offences against children. Member States will also be entitled to take other measures, such as listing convicted persons in "sex offender registers".


Next steps


The directive is expected to be formally adopted by the Council of Ministers before the end of the year. Member States will then have two years to transpose the new rules into their national laws.


The legislative resolution was adopted in Parliament with 541 votes in favour, 2 against and 31 abstentions.


Procedure: co-decision, first reading