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A7-0294/2011

Debates :

PV 26/10/2011 - 15
CRE 26/10/2011 - 15

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PV 27/10/2011 - 8.2
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P7_TA(2011)0468

Debates
Wednesday, 26 October 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

15. Sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography - Children's rights in the European Union (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. − The next item is the joint debate on

– the report by Roberta Angelilli, on behalf of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on combating the sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, repealing Framework Decision 2004/68/JHA (COM(2010)0094 – C7-0088/2010 – 2010/0064(COD)) (A7-0294/2011), and

– the oral question to the Commission on information on the implementation of measures envisaged in the European Union Programme on children’s rights by Roberta Angelilli, Simon Busuttil, Manfred Weber and Salvatore Iacolino, on behalf of the PPE Group (O-000231/2011 – B7-0627/2011), and

– the oral question to the Commission on children’s rights in the EU by Renate Weber, Marielle De Sarnez, Jan Mulder, Cecilia Wikström, Sonia Alfano, Nathalie Griesbeck, Ramon Tremosa i Balcells, Andrea Zanoni, Sarah Ludford, Nadja Hirsch and Louis Michel, on behalf of the ALDE Group (O-000273/2011 – B7-0637/2011).

 
  
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  Roberta Angelilli, rapporteur.(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I firstly wanted to outline our oral question to the Commission. It is, above all, a political act, an acknowledgement to the Commission that it is showing great interest in the issue of protecting and affirming children’s rights. Hence, on 15 February this year, Ms Reding presented a Communication on the European Union’s Programme on Children’s Rights, a package of 11 concrete actions that the Commission intends to adopt in the coming years to ensure greater legal protection for children, so that all 27 Member States will ensure justice for children.

I will list some of the measures. First of all, the proposal for a directive on the rights of victims, which is already in discussion in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and has among its objectives the protection of child victims in criminal proceedings. Other important points include the protection of Roma children, the activation in all free states of telephone helplines and early warning systems for missing children, not to mention a commitment to open a sort of information desk for children on the Parliament and EU website. These are some of the points that make up the package I mentioned. It is important to be aware of the extraordinary efforts that the Commission and individual Commissioners are putting into the protection of children’s rights, both within the European Union and beyond.

I will now set out the proposal for a directive, for which I am the rapporteur, on combating the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. I should first of all like to thank the shadow rapporteurs, Ms Sippel, Ms Lambert, Ms Wikström, Mr Triantaphyllides and Mr Kirkhope, who have helped me on this journey, which has not always been easy.

Above all I should like to thank Ms Malmström, who was a strong supporter of this directive, the Council, the Hungarian and the Polish rotating presidencies, which followed this legislative process very carefully, as well as all the non-governmental organisations (NGOs), beginning with UNICEF, ECPAT, Save the Children, and all the main NGOs that followed and assisted us in putting this directive together. To reiterate: this is the second criminal law measure since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, following the directive on human trafficking, and the first legislative measure on a specific area of criminal law, namely the protection of children against sexual exploitation, abuse and child pornography. Among other things, the directive brings together all the outcomes of a resolution that was adopted in Parliament in 2009 and takes the Lanzarote Convention as its point of reference.

A few key points: How do we define these crimes? The text defines the crimes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, child pornography and child grooming for sexual purposes. We added a specific definition of child pornography, making reference to the Lanzarote Convention. Furthermore, uniform and effective punishments are introduced across the European Union and aggravating circumstances are specified, in particular when a child is in a vulnerable situation, disabled or if the crime has perhaps been committed by a relative or someone who has any case abused their position of trust and authority. Turning now to disqualification, anyone who has committed a crime and been definitively convicted shall have their actions restricted and will also be banned from carrying out voluntary work with children. We have provided for the seizure and confiscation of assets and proceeds connected to the crimes set out in this directive.

Much has also been done in the areas of assistance for victims, in order to avoid so-called double victimisation; sex tourism; grooming, by which I mean the online solicitation of children; and, lastly, we have provided for the removal of all online child pornography. I will conclude by saying that obviously this is not a matter of censoring freedom of expression and freedom of opinion: only content that objectively contains images of violence and exploitation will be removed, that much is certain.

 
  
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  Cecilia Wikström, author.(SV) Mr President, when an adult sexually abuses a child it is a horrendous crime that results in trauma for the child and will affect the rest of his or her life. The brutal violation often does not end when the perpetrator has finished and moved on. Soon images and video clips are posted on the Internet showing the assault over and over again.

In the directive that we are to vote on now, the EU takes strong line against both of these types of crime, that is to say those that happen in real life and those that occur on the Internet. After long and difficult negotiations with the Council and the Commission, the European Parliament can now be pleased that it has a well thought-out legislative proposal, which for the first time in the EU’s history requires the Member States to prosecute child sex tourists who commit crimes in a country outside Europe.

I would like to thank the rapporteur, Ms Angelilli, and the other shadow rapporteurs for their excellent cooperation, which led to a result that we can all be very proud of.

It was not previously possible for an EU citizen, a Swede for example, who engages in so-called child sex tourism, in other words abuses children, outside the EU, in Thailand for example, to be prosecuted in his or her home country. At the same time, legal proceedings have very rarely been brought against the perpetrators in the country in question, in Thailand for example, and so they have been able to exploit children with impunity. The directive we are debating today will put a stop to this by requiring the Member States to prosecute any citizen who commits these horrendous crimes in a country outside Europe. This will make a significant contribution to limiting these crimes, and since the extent of these crimes is due to the fact that it has quite simply been easy to avoid punishment, fewer children will be exploited.

Abuse on the Internet can also be tackled by forcing the Member States to take measures to remove the child pornography at its source, in other words from the servers. When the websites are located in a country outside EU territory, we must be able to remove them by blocking them. Thus, we cannot guarantee that they will be removed from the servers, but we are instructing the Member States to increase their cooperation with third countries in order to obtain access to the websites. Blocking material could be a supplementary option for the Member States to use if they have not succeeded in deleting the material at source.

With the Angelilli report, the European Parliament has issued a clear message that what we cannot accept in real life, we cannot accept on the Internet, either. The work on this directive is a huge success for us all, and I would like to thank everyone once again for their cooperation.

 
  
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  Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, President-in-Office of the Council.(PL) Mr President, honourable Members, I would first like to express my very sincere thanks for the effort which has been put into drafting the proposal for a directive on combating the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. I would like in particular to thank the Hungarian Presidency, which in its negotiations with the European Parliament was able to forge a valuable compromise. I would also like to extend very warm thanks to the European Commission, and would like to give my particular thanks here to the Commissioner, Ms Malmström. It is appropriate that I also offer particular thanks here to Ms Angelilli, who acted as rapporteur for this report. Her commitment to children is widely known, and the best confirmation of this is the fact that she serves as European Parliament Mediator for International Parental Child Abduction. It is important that we have been able to make use of her experience in these difficult negotiations.

I am pleased that the Union is not falling behind developments in a changing world. It is keeping pace with threats related to the development of the modern world, threats concerning a particular kind of victim, because the defenceless child is always a specific kind of victim. We have tried to achieve solutions which are as comprehensive as possible in the directive, and it has also been possible to establish principles relating to the special treatment in criminal proceedings of persons under the age of 18 years who have been the victims of sexually-motivated crimes. On the other hand, we are introducing measures intended to reduce recidivism by creating mechanisms for working with persons who have a propensity to commit sexually-related crimes. We would not want a situation in which moving to another country could mean a lower risk of punishment for those who have committed crimes of this nature. Therefore it should be greatly appreciated that the report provides for a ban on offenders working with children which also applies if an offender moves to a different Member State.

I am extremely pleased by the fact that it has been possible to resolve the technical issue concerning correlation tables. We do not want such technical details to slow down much-needed action in an area where there was complete consensus. The route to adopting this instrument at first reading is now open. I hope the compromise which has been worked out will allow the rapid adoption of this directive. Once again I would like to express very warm thanks to all Members of the House who helped arrive at this solution, to the representatives of the Hungarian Presidency who worked on this before us and to the Commissioner, who is with us in the Chamber.

 
  
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  Cecilia Malmström, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I will start first with the oral question. As you know, with the Treaty of Lisbon the protection of the rights of the child was introduced as an objective of the European Union and this is made legally binding by the Charter of Fundamental Rights that guarantees the protection of the rights of the child. Now we must of course step up the efforts and put some action behind these beautiful words – within the limits of EU competences – with concrete actions and concrete results. That is the aim of the EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child that the Commission adopted in February this year.

The agenda pointed out something that you have raised in your questions; the significant lack of reliable, comparable and official data on the situation of children in the Member States. This is a serious problem for the development and implementation of a genuine evidence-based policy. The Fundamental Rights Agency has carried out important work in finding indicators to help develop policies in the area of the rights of the child. Thanks to the financial support of Parliament, the Commission will also be able to carry out a pilot project on developing child rights data collection for developing evidence-based policies. I am really grateful that the Members of this House share the interest of data collection, for instance in children’s effective access to justice. With the pilot project I mentioned, we will be able to have reliable and comparable data on children’s effective access to justice from all the Member States by 2013.

It is clear, of course, that if we want our policies to be effective we need money. There is no specific budget line called ‘policies for children’. But there are various programmes within our budget that provide funding aimed at children. We have, for instance, the Daphne programme with a budget of EUR 117 million providing financial support to NGOs and local authorities to combat violence against children. We have the Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme providing funding on children’s rights issues to national authorities and NGOs; and we have the Safer Internet Programme with a total budget of EUR 55 million aimed to empower and protect children online by awareness-raising initiatives.

Under the new multiannual framework programme 2014-2020, we will continue to fund policies to deliver child-friendly justice, to protect children and safeguard their rights. With a similar amount of funding as in the current generation of programmes, we will ensure a more efficient delivery for these actions and this will be achieved through streamlined programmes and a better response to the needs.

The EU agenda emphasised the importance of access to education and care services for small children. In the communication on early childhood education and care adopted earlier this year, the Commission set out key policy issues to be addressed at the European level to improve the accessibility and quality of service from birth to compulsory school age.

In the Council conclusions of May, the Member States were invited to analyse the current situation, to reinforce measures to improve access to high quality services and to invest in childhood education and care. The Commission will set up a thematic working group of policy-makers, academics and practitioners in early childhood education and care.

In the area of judicial cooperation in civil matters the Commission carefully monitors the correct application of the Brussels IIa regulation which provides for common rules on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgment in matters of parental responsibility and cross-border parental child abduction.

The correct implementation of the Hague Convention on Child Abduction is critical here. The aim of the Convention, as you know, is to restore the status quo by means of the prompt return of wrongfully removed or retained children through cooperation between central authorities. In external relations the Commission actively promotes the signature of this Convention to other countries. Child abduction and missing children is a growing and a common problem, and unfortunately it will not go away. We need to find tools to deal with this; and tools for Member States to be able to cooperate with each other in cases where a child is abducted.

We have child alert systems designed especially for cases of extremely worrying disappearances of children, such as child abduction. To date a child alert system works in ten Member States and the Commission is committed to work with the other Member States so they are also rolled out in the remaining seventeen. We have been encouraging Member States to set up their own national child alert system and we support them operationally through the exchange of best practices, and financially in order to make sure that they are operational on a cross-border basis.

A few years ago, with the financial support of Parliament, the Commission launched a pilot project aiming to introduce a child alert mechanism across Europe. This project consisted either of establishing a child alert system in those Member States or/and improving cooperation mechanisms amongst neighbouring countries. This is crucial and there are some good practices. For instance, we have the Lutte anti-disparitions d’enfants between France, Belgium and Britain that respects national sovereignty but has laid down procedures and provides the possibility to share information. Some Member States have not yet realised the values of these systems and my colleague Vice-President Reding has called on Member States who have not yet introduced child alert mechanisms to take all necessary steps for their implementation without delay.

Child alert is not the only tool. We also have the 116000 hotline in Europe designed to report missing children and offer support to the families of missing children. Sixteen Member States have signed up to this and we are of course making every effort for the rest of them to join as well. We will continue to support and encourage Member States, within the powers of the Commission, to ensure protection and promotion of the rights of the child.

Passing now to the Angelilli report; sexual crimes committed by adults towards children is the most horrendous form of criminality. As adults, we cannot and we should not accept this, and the report today is the proof that we will not accept it. It is a delicate compromise with a lot of people involved and I would like to pay tribute to the work of Ms Angelilli and her collaborators, the shadows, the coordinators and the Polish and Hungarian Presidencies. It is a compromise, and it is true that the Commission would have liked to go further in criminalising child sex tourism by including EU habitual residents as well as nationals in the extra-territorial jurisdiction against abusing children abroad. The compromise has considerably strengthened the proposal by criminalising child grooming more extensively and adding important provisions on victim protection, providing the right for employers to ask for information on criminal records and providing for awareness-raising and training of professionals as preventive measures. This directive equips us much better than the current one from 2004.

On the prosecution of offenders there are 20 criminal offences, including new trends like grooming online, webcam abuse, web viewing child pornography; different levels of penalties from one year to ten years’ imprisonment; the elimination of hurdles that may be set by statutes of limitation or confidentiality rules and special police units specially equipped to identify child victims – which will be a very important investigative tool.

On child tourism, there is extra-territorial jurisdiction for nationals; the removal of procedural hurdles and the prohibition of organising travel or advertising opportunities to abuse children. There is extensive assistance to protect the victims with an individual assessment of each child. There will be risk assessment for convicted offenders and intervention programmes as well as education, awareness training, etc. to detect child sexual abuse.

On images of sexual abuse of children on the Internet, we have agreement on the removal of web pages hosted in Member States, intended action to have them removed abroad and the possibility of blocking, subject to transparent procedures.

Again, I would like to thank Parliament for your true commitment to this. It has been a difficult journey but I think we have skilfully navigated in this complicated file. With this we show that our collective aim is to protect children and we do not tolerate children being used as objects to satisfy the sexual needs or greed of adults. Thank you very much for your hard work in this.

 
  
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  Petra Kammerevert, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Culture and Education. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, sexual abuse and sexual violence against children and young people as well as images of this are indeed among the worst possible crimes that anyone could commit against young people. Our highest priority must be to protect the victims, to prosecute the perpetrators and to punish them in a procedure that follows the rule of law. It is therefore good that, together, we have found a way to tackle this crime throughout the EU and to obtain a common basis for this.

In the Committee on Culture and Education, in addition to the issues of prevention, effective prosecution, information and more instruction in the use of media, one principle was particularly important to us and that was the principle of ‘deletion rather than blocking’. I am therefore pleased that, after a long struggle, we have succeeded in stipulating the deletion of websites depicting sexual violence against children and young people. The Commission proposed making it mandatory for all Member State to block these websites. However, it is no help to any child at all simply to draw a curtain, so to speak. Internet blocks are ineffective, imprecise, easy to circumvent and do not help to combat sexual abuse. In contrast, they create a censorship infrastructure, an instrument for controlling communication streams and are thus a threat to fundamental rights.

In Germany, this has now been implemented. I very much hope that this example will also be followed in other Member States and that they will not use the option of blocking, as stated in the directive.

 
  
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  Marina Yannakoudakis, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. Mr President, we all share the responsibility of protecting children, and I congratulate the rapporteur on a report that is both sensitive and firm in its approach.

I led on this report for the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality and believe our support of the Commissioner’s ‘three P’ approach – prevention, protection and prosecution – strengthens this report. Prevention is always the best form of protection. I am pleased that the report has included in it consideration of implementing an EU-wide telephone helpline.

In the United Kingdom we have a successful helpline run by a charity called the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. The helpline offers support and counselling to prevent sexual abuse and protect children at risk. One of the most controversial challenges addressed in this report was the blocking and deletion of child pornography content online. I support the deletion of images and subsequent investigation by the police. Everything should be done to stop people accessing illegal images, including blocking.

We need to ensure a zero-tolerance approach to child pornography, and we need to take a child-centred approach. A society that protects the vulnerable, such as children, is one we must strive for.

 
  
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  Simon Busuttil, on behalf of the PPE Group. (MT) Mr President, I would like to talk about the child exploitation directive. First of all, I would like to congratulate Roberta Angelilli for her invaluable work. I think we all agree that children are vulnerable persons; this is why they have needs that go beyond normal protection. In the last few years, a number of child abuse cases have been exposed on different levels, all over Europe and worldwide. While such cases are certainly shocking, they serve to make us aware of this problem and its extent. Nowadays, we are more aware of the considerable void that exists when it comes to providing greater protection for our children. Something needs to be done as soon as possible. Child abuse has probably been around since the dawn of time, but only now are we becoming aware of it. In the past, there was no Internet. Although the progress that came with it is undeniable, it has also brought about new ways with which children can be abused and exploited. On the Internet, potential abusers can get in touch with their unprotected victims, often using devious means. Moreover, the Internet allows the mass distribution of pornographic material. The directive on which we will be voting sends a clear message: abuse must end. The directive we will adopt defends children in the way they deserve. As a Member of the European Parliament I shall vote in favour. As the father of two children I am proud to do so.

 
  
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  Kinga Göncz, on behalf of the S&D Group.(HU) Mr President, I too welcome the Commission’s proposal for a directive and the report. Sexual abuse and maltreatment of children and young people via the use of new technologies is on the increase. Child pornography content available online – however short-lived it may be – is accessed by a great many people. An increasing number of primary school children are contactable via the Internet, mobile telephone or even directly.

In February 2011, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs demanded the removal from the Internet of online material containing child pornography and observed that concrete steps were needed to protect, help and support the young victims and develop educational programmes to help them when they become victims. We must actually ensure that victims’ fundamental rights are respected, and that they have access to legal remedies without being subjected to additional trauma as a result of participating in legal proceedings.

Every year many – nearly two hundred thousand – Russian and eastern European women and children find themselves forced into prostitution. There is no decline in the number of people in the most vulnerable groups; indeed, their number, too, is growing in tandem with the crisis and the rise in poverty. I drew attention to this on the website of the European Women’s Lobby, and in the present debate too I would like to emphasise that protection of children is our shared responsibility.

 
  
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  Nathalie Griesbeck, on behalf of the ALDE Group.(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, clearly I too would like to thank all those Members who have worked on drafting this fine text that is the directive being presented to us. I also welcome the firm political expression found in this text; it manages to balance things in such a way that we are able to protect children in Europe, by taking practical steps to combat the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse they suffer.

Finding balanced solutions in a rapidly developing, technologically advanced world, a world that offers us wondrous things but that can also pose serious risks, even despicable risks at times, to everyone, especially to children, is a real achievement. Protecting children, either by removing child pornography websites at their source, if possible, or by blocking them, is one practical solution.

Commissioner, you have listed the measures that can be included among the priorities of our policy agenda regarding children in Europe, given that 10% to 20% of European children are victims of sexual abuse, and that, in the current crisis, which is set to last, 19 million children are exposed to the risk of poverty on our continent. I welcome these observations.

You talked about the Hague Convention and, therefore, indirectly about legislation to facilitate the implementation of court decisions. I wish to draw your attention to the difficulties that bi-national couples experience with regard to the application of court orders pertaining to the custody of their children, particularly in relation to the Jugendamt issue in Germany.

 
  
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  Timothy Kirkhope, on behalf of the ECR Group. Mr President, in an era of rapid and apparently effortless global communications, particularly through the Internet but also now through mobile phones and iPads and the like, it is vital that we in the European Parliament work ever harder to protect children and young adults from the continuing threat of sexual and violent abuse.

We as lawmakers have a responsibility to make laws and policies which protect and promote the interests of the most vulnerable in our society. Children, for instance, should not be viewed merely as small adults. They are not always capable of asking for help or even knowing when they have been wronged. It is therefore the adults in society who must take responsibility for these children and be their strong and robust advocates.

I have been working on this issue for many years, first as a minister in the UK Home Office involved in the UN Convention on Children’s Rights, the meeting in Stockholm in Sweden in 1996 and then as rapporteur on a previous European parliamentary report back in 2000 to combat child pornography on the Internet. I called for stronger preventive measures to tackle this menace and I asked Member States to work with each other and the law enforcement agencies and units such as Europol to make sure that illegal websites were closed down and perpetrators brought to justice.

It was a very similar backbone to Ms Angelilli’s report. It concerns me that, despite the legislative, financial and specialist input into this problem, millions of children across the EU are still at risk today. The violation of children’s rights must be stopped, so I am pleased that the ECR Group and my government in the UK are supportive of the aims and proposals of this directive, which goes even further than what I proposed in 2000.

I am grateful for the work which Ms Angelilli and others from the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality and the Committee on Culture and Education have done in this area. I particularly welcome proposals to introduce a new offensive aiming to criminalise online grooming. I am also pleased this report advocates a more robust approach to criminal checks on professionals who want to work with children and encourages Member States to take the necessary steps to ensure that children who report abuse from within their own family are protected.

I would like to conclude my remarks by referring to the comments made by the British Prime Minister recently at an event in London last week which I attended. He reiterated that child trafficking and child exploitation were inexcusable and had to be stopped. Although this dossier finally does not deal specifically with child trafficking, I believe there is a political will at UK and EU level to continue our efforts to work on behalf of children and act as their advocates; they are our future, they are entitled to grow up free of these threats.

 
  
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  Jean Lambert, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. Mr President, my group would also like to thank the rapporteur and the shadows for the good cooperation in difficult negotiations. Whilst we certainly welcome the offence of online grooming being created, I must admit we found the attitude of Council in not wanting to incorporate grooming in all senses into this on the grounds that it already exists in national legislation a little surprising, given that many of the other offences here also exist in national legislation.

My group, too, welcomes the inclusion for the first time in EU legislation of sex tourism related to children and the jurisdiction over nationals travelling for the purposes of child abuse, but we also agree with the Commission that it is a pity that we have not been able to find a solution on those enjoying habitual residence.

We also welcome the recognition of the need to deal with the associated advertising and facilitation of such travel. We, too, welcome the measures to deal with the exclusion of convicted offenders from employment involving direct and regular contact with children. We welcome the move to make it possible for employers to request information about the potential employees for professional or organised voluntary activities with children, according to national law.

Article 25 relating to websites was particularly difficult to negotiate, as has already been said, and obviously the priority must be to protect children. However, there are legitimate concerns that measures employed for this crucial purpose become co-opted for other purposes of state control. The solution reached in this directive is important and has the full support of my group.

We also welcome support for survivors knowing the tragic consequences that such abuse has for so many children throughout their lives. Finally, we welcome the recognition, too, of the difference for consensual sexual activity between young people, whom we do not want to criminalise for behaviour that may be foolish but which is certainly not exploitative.

 
  
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  Kyriacos Triantaphyllides, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(EL) Mr President, as all the previous speakers said, the agreement between Parliament and the Council includes several positive elements, which my political group supports, such as combating sex tourism.

However, my group does not share other members’ enthusiasm about the final form of the report. While I should like to offer my warmest thanks to the rapporteur for the long hours she has worked on this issue, I wish to underline three basic reasons why my group will be unable to support the report.

Firstly, because of its legal basis, the present directive adopts an overwhelmingly penal approach to the question of the sexual exploitation of children, which does not allow a suitable victim support and protection system to be developed.

Secondly, it puts a disproportionate emphasis on the ‘online’ aspect, despite the fact that, in most cases, this sort of crime is committed in the real world; the Internet is mainly a means of mass distribution of images of the crime.

Thirdly, it introduces new provisions into European legislation to prevent access to certain websites, thereby creating a precedent which may prove to be inadequate in terms of future judgments in this sector.

 
  
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  Nikolaos Salavrakos, on behalf of the EFD Group.(EL) Mr President, it goes without saying that we must protect the innocence of children, that we must provide them with sexual education at the right time, in keeping with the results of scientific research and, more importantly, that we must protect them from sexual violence that damages them emotionally and scars them for the rest of their lives.

By creating mentally stable individuals, we can, at the same time, create stable societies. Unfortunately, however, we witness violence in the education system, violence both in and out of school, and the sexual exploitation of young people at tender ages, even at home and at school.

This very dangerous problem has taken on worrying proportions, as it is being promoted via various forms of online communications. This development makes finding those who promote child pornography a very difficult exercise; they are skilled in the use of misleading methods to guide children to pornographic websites.

Particular emphasis needs to be placed on timely prevention and proper information for children, including about the direct and indirect traps that are being seen on websites at an increasing rate. The basic objective of the proposal for a directive on combating sexual exploitation of children and child pornography is to adopt European rules and provisions.

I congratulate the rapporteur and I support her report.

 
  
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  Diane Dodds (NI). - Mr President, I welcome this report into the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. In Northern Ireland, my constituency, recent figures show us that 18% of all children on the child protection register are in a category that includes sexual abuse. It is therefore vital that we enhance the protection of these children, especially in the face of new challenges posed by global communications which transcend national boundaries. With more children having access to the Internet and social networking sites, it has become easier for sex offenders to prey on their young victims.

In the United Kingdom Internet service providers such as BT are active in helping to combat the issue of online child exploitation by voluntarily blocking inappropriate sites. Although this is a step in the right direction, it must be highlighted that many of these sites are hosted outside of Member States and cannot be taken down. I would like to see agreements in place that target such websites on a global scale. This is an area where Member States can, and must, act for the common good.

Whilst we discuss the current threats facing children as a result of ever-evolving channels of communication, I would also like to remind this House of the many children, now adults, across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, who have been the victims of horrific historical, clerical and institutional child abuse stretching back many decades. Just last month an inquiry into historical institutional abuse was launched in Northern Ireland. For these victims of child sex abuse, their issues are as real today as when they first happened, and we must support them too.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: DIANA WALLIS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Michèle Striffler (PPE).(FR) Madam President, Commissioner, first of all, I must commend the fact that children’s rights have become an integral part of the fundamental rights protected by the European Union following the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. Indeed, any European Union policy that directly or indirectly affects children must be devised, implemented and followed through in the best interests of the child, in accordance with the fundamental rights enshrined in this Charter.

However, I should like to focus my speech on the special attention that the European Union should pay to children and their rights, in view of the increasingly rapid growth of new communication technologies. The latter can unfortunately be a way of facilitating encounters between paedophiles and their victims, but they can also act as a vehicle for disseminating child pornography content.

The European Union must respond to these two dangers in a strong and uncompromising manner. As far as the risks associated with children using the Internet are concerned, I believe that prevention should be at the heart of European policies. It is our duty to educate children about the online environment. To this end, the European Union must draw up a proper prevention policy that is suitable even for the very young, in order to inform children of the risks they run when they use the Internet. Internet usage must be safer and better adapted to children’s expectations and needs.

Alongside this prevention policy, the Member States must combat new forms of abuse and sexual exploitation such as online child grooming for sexual purposes, where adults, using their false profile information as a cover, take advantage of this situation to commit their crime.

Finally, I wish to say a word about the fight against child pornography disseminated on the Internet. We have a duty to shut down sites with child pornography content, and we must make every effort to do so as quickly as possible. If, however, it took too long to shut down these sites, particularly in third countries, a temporary solution should of course be applied so as to block access to them, in the best interests, I repeat, of children who are victims of these atrocities.

 
  
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  Birgit Sippel (S&D).(DE) Madam President, the directive on combating the sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography sends out a clear message. This subject is an important one and one that concerns the whole of Europe, and uniform rules for the definition of offences and also for the penalties apply universally. Common arrangements for the prosecution of crimes committed outside the EU are still needed. The same applies to common standards for calling legal persons to account. The directive gives specific penalty options in this regard.

One key area, however, was offences committed on the Internet. Here ‘grooming’ is now made punishable. It is also important that all Member States are obliged to take measures to get websites containing child pornography deleted. However, in addition to this there remains an important requirement for all institutions of the European Union, in their international cooperation with other states, to ensure that the principle of deletion should take precedence in other countries of the world, too.

A great deal of abuse takes place in real life in our children’s immediate environment. Therefore, prevention mechanisms are particularly important, as is instruction in the use of media, so that, when using new media, our children and young people are able to recognise the sources of danger. Protection measures are obviously particularly important from the point of view of those affected, both for children during criminal proceedings and also in the form of special support for children and their families outside the context of such proceedings. The Member States have a particular duty here. Overall, after difficult negotiations, we have obtained a good directive. Following its adoption, it will be up to the Member States to implement it and put it into practice as quickly and as comprehensively as possible.

To finish I would like to make one more personal comment. Even though a different decision has now been taken, I would have liked there to be correlation tables for all directives in future. The fact that we will not now have this quick overview of the implementation of measures is something that I personally find very disappointing.

 
  
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  Sarah Ludford (ALDE). - Madam President, the EU has a good story to tell about its work to protect children. Earlier this year in the strengthened law on trafficking, we included a requirement to appoint a guardian for unaccompanied child victims which hopefully will help to stop their disappearance from care back into the clutches of the trafficking gangs.

The new directive will mean child sex abusers and porn merchants would face a greater prospect of life behind bars. MEPs rightly fought for tougher sentences. It is also very important that we successively insisted on the ability to prosecute EU citizens who go abroad as sex tourists. I heard horror stories on this on a visit to Cambodia a few years ago.

Among many other initiatives I would mention mutual recognition of disqualifications from working with children, cross-border exchange of criminal records – so that abusers can be tracked when they move – and particular protection of child victims and suspects in the criminal justice system.

However, I would like to say a word about something Commissioner Malmström mentioned, which was the 116000 number for missing children. It is still not operational in, I think, 11 Member States, although that was required by last May. In addition there are problems with using mobile phones outside one’s home country because there is a dispute about who picks up the roaming charges. I would urge Commissioner Malmström to get to grips with this problem and talk to the mobile phone companies – in fact all the phone companies – and try and resolve this problem of the roaming charge because, until that is sorted out, we will not have a universal hotline for missing children.

 
  
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  Valdemar Tomaševski (ECR). - (LT) Madam President, the sexual exploitation of children is a particular offence that leaves deep scars on children’s psyche. The legal frameworks of the Member States provide for certain penalties aimed at combating the sexual exploitation of children, but we must improve our children’s level of security. The report by my colleague Roberta Angelilli is a step in the right direction. Legislation must therefore be changed so that criminals from the European Union are prosecuted, even if a sexual offence against a child was committed outside its borders. We must support organisations combating paedophilia. Support is also needed for citizens’ initiatives where the justice system is ineffective, corrupt or caught up in sex crimes involving child abuse. The paedophilia scandal that took place in Lithuania a few years ago is an example of this. High-ranking justice system officials were entangled in this case. The case only came to light thanks to an initiative organised by citizens, which prevented a cover up. It is also important to introduce simpler access to legal protection for children and parents who have become victims of sexual crimes. This is very important, particularly as far as the underprivileged are concerned because, as we know, this is the most vulnerable social group in terms of the sexual exploitation of children. Let us not forget that in this Parliament it is our duty to guarantee protection for children.

 
  
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  Jan Philipp Albrecht (Verts/ALE). (DE) Madam President, Commissioner Malmström, ladies and gentlemen, the directive on combating child abuse that we are to vote on here is an important and positive step in the fight against the continuing exploitation of numerous children in the European Union and throughout the world. We in the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance are therefore extremely pleased that a workable agreement has been reached between the European Parliament and the Council.

Particularly when it comes to such a sensitive and important matter as combating child abuse, it is essential to provide the correct political answers. I am therefore pleased that we have succeeded, after an in-depth debate, in agreeing on a clear commitment to the compulsory deletion of child pornographic content on the Internet, following the procedures of the rule of law. At the same time, it was right for us as Parliament to have persisted in our view that an obligation to block content on the Internet is not the right path to take. It definitely will not help victims of child abuse if we simply erect stop signs in the virtual realm that are easy to circumvent, while abuse and rape continue in the real world. For us it is not an option simply to push this distressful matter out of sight without taking the necessary steps to remove it. Both within the EU and its Member States and also in relation to third countries, this criminal and abusive material must be removed at source.

Crime statistics show that most activity does not occur on island states somewhere in the Pacific, but here in Europe, in the US or, for example, in Russia. In view of our close cooperation with these countries, it cannot be asking too much to employ effective methods to prosecute child abuse.

If we adopt this directive tomorrow, it will also signify a decision in terms of the direction that law enforcement on the Internet is to take. Instead of blocking infrastructures, which are highly questionable in terms of the rule of law, and arbitrary measures by the providers, we in the European Union want to create an effective framework to combat crime and abuse where is occurs. We do not want merely to sweep the problem under the carpet at the expense of judicial procedures, but to tackle it in an open way.

A society must remain vigilant, particularly where abuse is concerned, and work to combat the causes of it outside of the traditional means of law enforcement, too. We now need to make some serious efforts in this regard.

 
  
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  Oreste Rossi (EFD).(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, first of all I should like to thank Ms Angelilli for this initiative. Sexually exploiting children is without doubt one of the most degenerate crimes there is. Anyone paying or exploiting a young boy or girl for sexual purposes must be severely punished. Moreover, we need to take action against those who travel to other countries where it is easier to pay for sexual gratification from children, who often live in such poverty as to induce their families to sell them. Disseminating child pornography through the Internet must also be banned and the competent authority must be able to shut down the sites that put such material online.

There is no doubt that Internet users often come across sites containing pornographic material and it is hard to distinguish whether the people shown are under age or not. It would be good if there were campaigns designed to encourage those who stumble on suspected child pornography sites to flag them up to the competent authorities, perhaps providing a dedicated site where the suspected page could be downloaded. It will then be up to the competent judicial authorities to determine whether the reported site should be blocked or not. I am in favour of the report, since this problem should be dealt with seriously and carefully in order to protect children.

 
  
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  Nick Griffin (NI). - Madam President, my constituency is suffering a hidden epidemic of sexual grooming so I appreciate the efforts of all those involved in producing this report. The grassroots campaigners for the protection of children tell me that the report misses the most important target. To concentrate on online pornography while relegating real-life child sexual abuse to a page 33 annex is to worry about a speck in one eye while ignoring a splintered plank in another.

Real-life abuse is described in the report as ‘offline grooming’. Such terminology is an insult to the victims and their families. It is not offline: it is on our streets. It is not a matter of images: it is a matter of real-life degradation, gang rape, and even murder. But because a disproportionately large number of street groomers are Muslims, politically-correct censorship prevents the issue from being properly discussed. Because of this deliberate downplaying of the problem, on-street grooming is not even a specific offence in many countries. As a result, the crime remains statistically virtually invisible. This undermines attempts to secure justice for the victims, effective responses from the authorities, and proper penalties for the perpetrators.

In my own constituency, the family of Charlene Downs still waits for justice following the botched prosecution of those arrested over the grooming, rape and murder of their little girl in 2003. Despite their belief that 60 other girls had been groomed by the same gang, and that Charlene’s body was disposed of in kebabs, the police regarded their report as too sensitive to publish. The consequences of such cowardice became clear four years later when 15-year-old Paige Chivers went missing, believed murdered, at the hands of the same gang.

Of course, not all police officers are politically correct cowards, any more than all Muslims are groomers. The vast majority are as sickened by these things as we are, but the playing down of the problem in reports like this aids the criminal minority and leaves new victims at risk. The more serious crimes should get the attention.

 
  
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  Sabine Verheyen (PPE).(DE) Madam President, I am pleased that, with the report by Ms Angelilli, we have together succeeded in initiating a strong, effective directive, and I would like to thank Ms Angelilli for this. The directive represents a significant step forward in the fight against child abuse. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of crimes still take place within children’s immediate social environment. The perpetrators are to be found within their families, in their schools and among their acquaintances. In this regard, we are still at the start of our work to raise awareness. Therefore, our children need to be made strong – strong enough to have the courage to confide in someone close to them in an emergency, but also strong enough to recognise dangers such as grooming when using the Internet. Together, we must therefore ensure that a sense of responsibility plays a greater role when it comes to the use of media in the education of our children. In this regard, the provision of information is of major importance, as many teachers and parents do not know what it is possible to do with their children’s computers or mobile phones. There is a great deal of catching up to do in this area.

It is therefore to be welcomed that this report also attaches a great deal of importance to prevention, as the authorities, but also schools and families, need to do everything they can to prevent these sorts of dreadful crimes from happening in the first place. As a result, the EU also needs better strategies for negotiating with third countries, such as the US and Russia. Websites hosted outside the EU can only be quickly and effectively deleted if we also cooperate closely with these countries in the hunt for the perpetrators and, together, send out a clear signal criminalising the sexual abuse of children. Up to now, once the perpetrator has been caught, the legislator has, unfortunately, often been surprisingly lenient and most of the penalties have been suspended sentences. The seriousness of the offence must be given greater consideration in future.

Overall, however, it is important for the public debate to continue, as there are many different dimensions to this issue. Prevention, the protection of victims, technical development, the principle of deletion rather than blocking, case law, the provision of information and intensive scientific documentation of the facts must also continue to be pursued after the vote tomorrow. Under no circumstances can we just sit back and relax. Instead, we need to accept the call to action for us all – every one of us – and work to achieve prevention and the provision of information.

 
  
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  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D). - (LT) Madam President, today we are debating a very important report, into which the both the rapporteur and other colleagues have put a lot of effort, because the sexual exploitation of children is the most serious and cruel crime committed against children, in which the sexual abuse and physical and psychological suffering experienced traumatise children for the rest of their lives and have an irreversible impact on their personal development. Such crimes are also a dirty business that profits from exploiting children as sex objects, torturing and abusing them. It is therefore very important for this directive to make the penalties for such crimes more severe throughout the territory of the European Union because then individual Member States will be unable to give child abusers lighter sentences. We need to punish online grooming and sex tourism and it is also very important to strengthen victim protection. This directive sets great store by crime prevention such as education, training for officials working in this area and cooperation with relevant civil organisations. We must educate children and parents about the dangers lurking online. It is very important to provide victims and their families with psychological and other kinds of help.

I would like to stress that, during an investigation, it is important for there to be cooperation between the police, non-governmental organisations and providers of social services so that child victims obtain the appropriate help and support. It is also very important to properly train specialists, teachers, psychologists, social workers and lawyers to participate in this work, particularly in the area of victim prevention and protection. Indeed I agree with my colleagues who spoke previously and who agree unanimously that all European Union Member States must be obliged to remove material placed on Internet servers throughout the entire territory of the European Union. This means that we can only achieve results by working together internally and with other European Union Member States, and by cooperating with third countries.

 
  
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  Alexander Alvaro (ALDE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, President-in-Office of the Council, the sexual abuse of children is not only a crime, it is a disease, a market of disgrace and defilement that we need to bring to an end. We are gathered together here today in order to find the best way of doing that.

I would like to thank the rapporteur and the Commissioner for their efforts to find a common position in this House. We have agreed on the principle of deletion rather than blocking of websites. We have agreed to implement the complete removal of child pornographic material from the Internet and to give the Member States the task of enforcing an access block if they do not achieve the removal of the material. However, we have also decided not to cover up what is going on, but to deal with the source and causes of this problem and to do so, above all, by means of this directive and the work that my colleagues have invested in it.

At the same time, however, this obviously forces us to act at international level. Mr Albrecht has just made this clear. Most of these websites originate outside Europe’s borders. It must not be the case that phishing sites are eradicated from the Internet quicker than child pornography sites. It is the job of all of us to remind states, whether European or otherwise, that they cannot escape their responsibility to take action here rather than to turn a blind eye.

We need to identify the people behind this, catch the people who profit from it and provide lasting protection for children in Europe and in other countries.

 
  
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  Peter van Dalen (ECR). - (NL) Madam President, tomorrow we will be taking a vote on a very important directive to combat the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. These violations must stop and I therefore support the proposal. I would call your attention to three points.

Firstly, cooperation. Criminal gangs which are involved in child pornography and sexual exploitation often work across borders. By working together, the police and judicial authorities will be able to map the whole chain of their evil activities. We need penalties which will apply to all aspects of their work. Obviously, international criminals will always mendaciously claim that they operate in relatively small gangs, in order to minimise their role, but we need to debunk that myth. After all, criminals are responsible for human trafficking, they are ruthless and work across borders.

Secondly, victim support. Last week, together with Mr Buşoi, my Romanian colleague, I organised a meeting on human trafficking and sexual exploitation, which was also attended by aid organisations from Western and Eastern Europe. They help women and children who are victims of sexual exploitation. They are doing this because various authorities responsible for this are failing to do much. In countries such as Hungary and Romania, women and children who are victims do not always receive proper support. However, Article 18 of the draft directive says that Member States ought to help underage victims. Several women’s shelters in Central and Eastern Europe are full of young girls, sometimes younger than 16. I call on the Eastern European Member States to heed the directive and take victim support seriously, and on the Commission to ensure that such support is, indeed, provided.

Thirdly, prevention. There is very little mention of it in the directive and, so, we need to make a lot of improvements on that score. I support the rapporteur who has called on national authorities to do more work on prevention. My question to the Commission is: how are Member States going to report on their prevention programmes?

 
  
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  Claudio Morganti (EFD).(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, sexually abusing children is more shameful and debased than one can even imagine. Besides the crime itself, violent abuse of children has devastating consequences in terms of the victim’s development. It is no accident that many adults that commit abuse have themselves suffered trauma in their youth. It is therefore right to be as severe as possible in punishing this kind of crime, which often descends into the worst possible kind of horror when committed against vulnerable people, such as children with physical or mental disabilities.

I should like to reflect in particular on one aspect of this report, namely the voluntary prevention and suppression measures for convicts. Chemical castration is certainly among the possible solutions we could adopt. This subject has not yet been broached in Italy, but it seems to have provided satisfactory results in various European countries where it is already in use. We must therefore proceed in this direction, even though I think that in the most serious cases it should be compulsory rather than voluntary.

 
  
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  Kinga Gál (PPE).(HU) Madam President, as a mother of four myself I am particularly pleased that we are at last taking action at European Union level against this most despicable type of crime, which is constantly selecting its victims and poses a threat to all our children, because it can reach into the places we believe are the safest, children’s bedrooms, via the realm of the Internet.

Credit is due to Commissioner Malmström for her initiative, and to the Hungarian Presidency for carrying forward negotiations on this important directive almost to completion by concluding the discussion on points of substance. I also congratulate the Polish Presidency on managing to put the dot on the i in a process that has lasted several years. My special thanks, however, go to my colleague Ms Angelilli for her excellent work and her perseverance. I can only hope that Member States will begin the process of transposing the directive into national legislation without delay.

We all know, however, that even the transposition of this directive into national law cannot eliminate child pornography completely. This is why there is room for all kinds of other initiatives targeting websites with illegal paedophile content and identifying the people or organisations behind them, those who support this sort of criminal activity either directly or indirectly, even just by providing server space.

I also want to stress again the need to raise awareness among children, families, and those involved in the care and education of children, regarding the dangers that can materialise from anywhere via modern technologies. I would like to emphasise that nothing can take the place of child care and protection within the family. We cannot afford to sit back; the fight must go on. One only has to think of how new technologies constantly change as they evolve. Child safety must remain a key issue in every EU Member State. We must continue to protect our children.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). - (SK) Madam President, sexual abuse, the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography represent serious violations of human rights, particularly the right of children to the protection and care essential for their happiness, as laid down by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights. These crimes cause unimaginable long-term physical, psychological and social harm to their innocent victims. I would like to emphasise that the actual nature of these reprehensible crimes undermines confidence in the basic values of modern society in the area of the special protection of children, and, in a sense, also weakens confidence in the relevant state institutions and European institutions.

I therefore firmly believe that serious crimes such as these require a comprehensive, common European approach, including the prosecution of offenders, as well as consistent protection of children. Above all, however, we need to make an effort and put all available resources into effective prevention of these serious crimes committed against minors. When implementing any strong measures to combat such abominations it is always vital under all circumstances to take account first and foremost of the interest of the child, in accordance with the previously mentioned conventions and documents, as well as generally-applied moral principles of society. When such a crime is detected, however, we should not shrink from publicly pillorying and condemning those that commit these crimes against children, whether they are private individuals or representatives of the Catholic Church.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Ziobro (ECR).(PL) Madam President, I am very pleased at the fact that the European Parliament is giving its attention to this extremely important document about the fight against paedophilia and crimes perpetrated against the weakest and most defenceless. We should do everything possible to enable those very people – children – to feel much safer here in Europe. For it is the world of the Internet, a world associated with permissiveness and the popularisation of a liberal approach to sexual activity, which sometimes goes so far that it means causing harm to an innocent child. Therefore I greatly welcome the fact that the directive induces individual Member States to adopt much more rigorous measures which impose suitably severe criminal sanctions on these crimes. Yes, such crimes should attract suitably severe punishment and should be prosecuted with the appropriate degree of consistency. It is also extremely important to react to this kind of problem, too, when it appears in the Internet. Therefore it is very important and appropriate to see that these points have also been noted in an applicable directive.

 
  
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  Salvatore Iacolino (PPE).(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I should straight away like to pay tribute to the rapporteur, Ms Angelilli, for her excellent work. Achieving a balance on an important directive that we obviously completely support was no easy task.

The debate on such a sensitive subject can be seen as fruitful. There is no more deviant crime than crime against young people and children, given their defencelessness, fragility and vulnerability. In particular, sexual crimes should always be punished decisively and severely. The parts of the text on child pornography, on the possibility of blocking these sites or deleting them if they cannot be blocked are important, as are the references to subjects such as trafficking in human beings, which is often in the hands of organised crime.

We must also strengthen relationships with local bodies, Ms Malmström, because as we know, after the reception centres these children move to family homes and then often disappear without a trace. I approve of individual rehabilitation processes that follow an interdisciplinary approach, as someone said not long ago, to strengthen a sense of well-being that must, of course, be rekindled in these children. The early warning system is also a good thing: it will be important to share it among a greater number of Member States, just as it is now important to underline the need for increasingly strong cooperation based on trust among Member States.

The reference to seizures is also important. Let us confiscate assets from people convicted of this type of crime and use them for good in these areas, nurturing these children back to mental, physical and social well-being. This directive is an important and necessary step, but Parliament still needs to come up with many more.

 
  
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  Emine Bozkurt (S&D). - (NL) Madam President, child abuse is a nightmare for any parent and an indescribably traumatic experience for the child and for society as a whole. Nobody, not even institutions, can be allowed to get away with child abuse or be above the law.

We have reports of horrific things coming to light in several EU countries. In the Netherlands, we witnessed a terrible and widespread abuse case. A whole network of abusers was rounded up. A man born in Latvia, who had already been convicted in Germany, was allowed to work in a crèche in Amsterdam, just like that, without the staff being made aware of his previous conviction. He used the Internet to spread pictures of his abuse of extremely young children.

Employers, as well as organisations working with volunteers, ought to be made aware of any previous convictions. A certificate of good conduct, which is necessary for these kinds of occupations, will be linked to the European criminal register, which will be put into operation in 2012. I am very pleased that this proposal of mine has been adopted by both Parliament and the Council. We will tackle cross-border abuse, such as sex tourism. Nationals of Member States who abuse children in other countries will be punished.

In addition, we need to protect our children online, because every click, every glance at a photograph or a film of an abused child constitutes the repeated degradation of this child. Approaching children online for sexual purposes will be made punishable. Victims need protection and very thorough aftercare, including during criminal proceedings. The adoption of this improved legislation will help us create a safer Europe for our children.

 
  
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  Emma McClarkin (ECR). - Madam President, child abuse material has been rapidly increasing in prevalence on the Internet and the severity of such content is worsening. Indeed the statistics reveal a truly harrowing story. In the UK, for example, BT Internet alone estimates that their blocking technology prevents 40 000 attempts to access known child abuse websites every single day. That is over 14 million attempts every year.

That is why I am pleased to see the Commission’s proposal for a directive on combating this issue. Sadly there is one aspect which, as well as causing significant controversy, provoked an emotionally charged debate; this of course was the issue of blocking versus deletion. No-one is suggesting that blocking is 100% effective. However blocking is a quick and crucial short-term disruption tactic. Quite simply, it is my belief that the protection of our children and the apprehension of the criminals who perpetrate these abuses should take precedence over freedom of the Internet and the human rights of those sick individuals who view this material. I am sure that the majority of European citizens will share this belief.

The sad truth is that, whilst action on the online sphere is valuable, the best way to prevent child abuse images circulating on the Internet is to stop child abuse – full stop! I would like to ask Members of this House to disregard the implications inferred from the statement from Mr Griffin.

 
  
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  Agustín Díaz de Mera García Consuegra (PPE). (ES) Madam President, I fully support the proposal for a directive; it is a real breakthrough. Furthermore, Ms Angelilli’s commitment to the cause of child protection is one of the most noble objectives that a parliamentarian can undertake.

Children are weak and vulnerable and therefore deserve the highest level of protection. Sexual abuse of children must be prevented with new legislative measures and punished harshly under criminal law. So-called sex tourism and child pornography are forms of exploitation which should be a matter of priority for law enforcement, including international agreements on the matter. In my opinion, all agreements with third countries on free trade and development aid must include a child protection clause.

We must also focus our serious concerns on the child indoctrination that occurs in some countries suffering structural poverty, where they hand over many children, the offspring of polygamous unions, to apparently religious schools to avoid lack of food and hunger. Child assassins, child soldiers and child drug runners are among the most heinous forms of exploitation, a widespread phenomenon on two continents which has irreversible social repercussions.

Programmes to rescue child victims of forced prostitution must be a political and social priority of the European Union. Line 11600 must have the commitment and unwavering support of all Member States.

Madam President, I appreciate and applaud the effort and commitment of the Council, but I particularly applaud the commitment of Ms Malmström and Ms Angelilli.

 
  
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  Antigoni Papadopoulou (S&D).(EL) Madam President, without doubt the sexual exploitation of children scars children for their entire life. Despite the lack of statistics, studies illustrate that, in the European Union, between 10% and 20% of minors have suffered sexual violence. The offenders are usually people in their close social environment. These days, with the quantum leaps being made in new technologies, mobile telephony and the Internet, there has been a parallel eruption of child pornography and sexual exploitation websites, with ever younger children falling victim to skillful paedophiles.

The Angelilli report and the proposal for a directive recommend a European framework of actions to prevent and eliminate the sexual abuse and exploitation of minors and child pornography. I specifically congratulate Ms Angelilli, because she has included in her report a wealth of points made by the Council of Europe on the protection of children, setting out minimum punishments, strict sanctions and actions to prevent grooming, such as confiscating pornographic material and blocking websites.

I consider that this Convention should be ratified by everyone and that we should all work together on zero tolerance towards the sexual abuse of children.

 
  
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  Mariya Nedelcheva (PPE).(FR) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to give my full support today to this report, which allows for significant progress to be made in the protection of children’s rights. It stresses the need for more prevention and introduces harsher penalties. In this regard, I would like to highlight the importance of tougher sentences for those who have taken advantage of their position of authority, confidence or influence to abuse a child.

The report also insists on follow-up measures for victims and their families. I mention their families deliberately, because they are also victims. Admittedly, they are indirect victims, but they can be deeply affected by the sexual violence that their child has suffered.

This directive represents considerable progress, and I should like to sincerely congratulate the rapporteur on her work.

Aside from certain differences that have surfaced during the negotiations, we were keen to ensure that the best interests of the child were our main concern at all times, and I believe it is important to highlight that today.

However, I must admit that there is something that has left a bitter taste in my mouth. This does not directly relate to Ms Angelilli’s report; it is a more general issue. Commissioner, why is the Commission refusing to declare itself in favour of the Union’s accession to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child? Like other Members, I submitted a written question on this matter. Why, when the Union now has a legal personality that allows it to ratify international treaties, can it not go further in recognising children’s rights? The argument that the Union is not competent to intervene in this area does not satisfy me. This legalistic answer is not valid. Ratification by the Union is a strong political message that we have a duty to send. If the Union undertakes to enforce children’s rights, then it must ratify the Convention, especially since we now have the Charter of Fundamental Rights, including Article 24 thereof, which obliges us to enforce these rights.

The European Union must be bolder and prove that it is equal to its new responsibilities.

 
  
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  Marco Scurria (PPE).(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, it is never appropriate to rank crimes in order: they are all, clearly, despicable. However, the crimes we are talking about this evening are especially contemptible. Perhaps it is not by chance that one of the harshest pages of the Gospel is the one where Jesus says: ‘Whoso shall offend one of these little ones, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.’ Rarely are the words of Christ more damning.

Some days, you go home pleased at having done a good job: today is one of those days. Thanks to our rapporteur, Ms Angelilli, and to the other European institutions, the Commission and the Council, we are launching an important piece of legislation that includes: measures against sex tourism; a clear definition of the crimes of sexual abuse and exploitation, and of child pornography, as well as the aggravating circumstances; a guarantee of as much free psychological help for victims as each case requires; a decision on the seizure and confiscation of the proceeds of these crimes; a focus on prevention; and much else besides.

Even these days, when anti-politics seems to have the upper hand, politics is able to provide a clear and tangible response, in the first instance for the benefit of the many associations and volunteers who deal with these issues on a daily basis and for the police forces that carry out a highly sensitive and extremely valuable job which, in some countries including my own – Italy – has reached standards of genuine excellence and constitute examples to be followed.

Today the important thing was to produce a European strategy to make our citizens feel that the Union is there for them, especially on such crucial issues as these. We can be quite secure and proud in saying that we have succeeded in doing so.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Madam President, I welcome Ms Angelilli’s initiative to raise this subject again for discussion. I have noticed my colleague’s constant concern for sensitive issues affecting children, like this one, and I want to congratulate her for this. I wanted to take the floor in this debate because, unfortunately, in the recent EU Kids Online study, my country features in the increased risk group. The study was carried out with the backing of the European Commission and concerns the amount of time children spend on the Internet unsupervised. Children in Romania, who exceed the average European time of 88 minutes per day, are therefore much more exposed to abuse from cyberspace.

I think that cooperation between Member States needs to be strengthened, especially in terms of implementing the legal framework. Cooperation between the police and agencies involved in protecting and educating children is important in order to prevent such behaviour. Child pornography is one of the most common offences committed online, in addition to cases involving the transfer of personal information, cyberbullying and fraud.

The general public could play a role in preventing this by simply reporting incidents of this kind. For example, in Romania, FOCUS – the Centre for Missing and Sexually Exploited Children is extremely active. Set up in 2007, it is involved in campaigns to raise public awareness and prevent this problem. At the same time, it runs an emergency number for reporting cases of child pornography and is cofinanced by the European Commission.

Finally, I call on Member States to step up their cooperation with third countries to combat this problem globally.

 
  
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  Heinz K. Becker (PPE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, the European Parliament, working together with the Commission, is flexing its muscles in the interests of the children of Europe. Ms Angelilli’s report, which is the result of exemplary cross-group cooperation, is our strongest weapon to date against the abuse of minors, which, as we know, has reached such dimensions, throughout both Europe and the world at large, that no single Member State can hope to achieve something in this area by acting alone. Child welfare must be given priority in our political work. This is the proof. Building on this excellent report and the forthcoming directive, we must set our sights on the next steps, intervening before such horrific acts occur, in other words we must strengthen preventive measures. I refer particularly to the way in which children are portrayed in the media: here we find children presented as sex objects and depicted in suggestive and lascivious poses. This is precisely what happened recently in French magazine ‘Vogue’. An issue that was distributed throughout Europe showed 10-year-old girls in provocative poses – something the experts tell us provides a clear stimulus for criminality among paedophiles.

We need to take action both on the Internet and beyond. In future, we need to raise the clearly declining threshold of acceptance, after all anything that impinges on our children requires maximum protection. We need to put a stop to the perversion of the principle of the freedom of the press, which is a red herring anyway, before children are abused. The media should not be allowed to provide an impetus for those with paedophile tendencies, who can interpret such publicity as a prompt for action.

With this in mind, I would encourage the Commission and Parliament to continue with this joint campaign.

 
  
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  Véronique Mathieu (PPE).(FR) Madam President, first of all, I should like to thank Ms Angelilli for her outstanding work. Her perseverance and knowledge have produced a clear text that lays the foundations for increased child protection, thanks to unambiguous and relevant definitions.

This text recognises that every abuse situation is different and proposes a framework appropriate for each case. No form of violence is overlooked, and the vulnerability of children is fully taken on board.

The report takes full account of the Internet and its associated risks. One can only applaud this large-scale harmonisation, which allows for significant progress to be made in the prevention of child abuse and in the just conviction of abusers.

It was high time that the European institutions got a grip on this issue and clearly showed that the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, no matter what form they take, are unacceptable. In that respect, Ms Malmström also deserves to be thanked.

We must protect our children, who are often faced with abominations that they do not comprehend. Much progress is being made. The report fills a harmful void by taking into account sex tourism, even when it takes place outside the European Union.

I hope that many Member States will restrict access to child pornography, either by removing sites or by blocking the web pages concerned quickly and effectively. Our children need the best possible protection in their living environment, whatever their social background.

 
  
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  Joanna Katarzyna Skrzydlewska (PPE).(PL) Madam President, I think children’s rights should be looked at from a broader perspective. Despite the fact that 90 million children live in the European Union, they are still treated more as the object of law than the subject of law. In all Member States, children are protected by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and many national regulations, but their protection, both in the real world and in cyberspace, is not sufficient. Measures for their legal protection are not sufficiently coordinated.

Often in various countries there is talk of insufficient support for education, health care or social care. However, there is no institution which coordinates and monitors work on behalf of children. Furthermore, not all the Member States have a child protection service which would be the first point of contact for children when they are being abused. The system of foster care is not sufficiently well developed and functional in all Member States. Extending this system needs the right effort to be made, and this includes funding, and it also requires specialist support for foster families.

As for the rights of children with disabilities, a system should be established for the early support of children with disabilities. Education for doctors and medical personnel should be introduced in the field of work on behalf of children and their parents and the help which can be given them. Without doubt one difficulty in doing these things is the fact that a European fund still has not been established which is aimed specifically at solving problems involving children. Therefore, Ms Malmström, I appeal for consideration to be given to the possibility of establishing such a fund. I think the European Union should be playing a key role in protecting children’s rights by introducing additional regulations and strengthening cooperation between the Member States.

 
  
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  Barbara Matera (PPE). - (IT) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the sexual abuse and exploitation of children is becoming notably widespread in the Member States of the European Union. This worrying fact is facilitated by the use of new technologies, especially the Internet. Children of both sexes are affected by these attacks, although the majority of reports relate to crimes against young girls.

I think the European Union needs to set itself up with a legislative framework that can condemn these despicable acts and harmonise the criminal laws of the Member States. Recognising phenomena such as grooming, introducing a definition of sex tourism, creating telephone helplines sponsored by the Union, and blocking and removing images from websites to avoid abused children being repeatedly victimised are all measures that are on the right track to help combat this situation, which we must deal with firmly and decisively. I would therefore like to pay tribute to the rapporteur, Ms Angelilli.

Lastly, I think it is essential to support the development of facilities to provide assistance to victims, as well as roads to rehabilitation for offenders. The role of women needs to be put back at the heart of this process, since women are the main carers in families and in society, including by toughening up the legislation in force in Member States and harmonising punishments.

 
  
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  Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (PPE). - Madam President, a crime is a crime, regardless of whether it is committed physically or on the Net. Criminal gangs commit organised crimes, regardless of the means they use. Kids deserve our full protection and deserve to feel protected. That is why I have been so committed to this work. They have the right to live in freedom and security, and they also have the right to integrity on the Net. I am glad that we have finally been able to agree on adopting common, legislative, concrete measures to truly combat child abuse – as is called for, by the way, in the Stockholm Programme. There is strong support to enhance prevention, protection and prosecution, and to protect the victim throughout the European Union. Child pornography images, grooming and sex tourism are finally criminalised.

I fully embrace freedom of expression and freedom on the Internet, but that is not the issue now. What we are voting on is the protection of innocent children from brutality on the Internet, not on limiting the Net. It is not about blocking the Internet, it is about blocking images that are illegal on the Internet. It is not about ideology or censorship, it is about violence and exploitation that can traumatise children for the rest of their lives. With this directive I believe we will succeed in strengthening the means to combat child abuse without creating a Big Brother society.

Member States will have to remove pornographic content on a webpage hosted in their territory or block such content if the server is in a third country and removal is not possible. But the directive also provides for transparent procedures and adequate safeguards. We should, of course, also engage in dialogue with the industry and service providers to make the best use of information technology, and I also call on the IT industry to continue to play its role and be responsible.

In this directive and in the European Union Programme for Children we are finally putting children at the centre of European policy and creating a culture of zero tolerance. I would just like to finish with a call to nominate, in every committee in Parliament, an MEP responsible for children’s rights so that we can really unite forces and stand up for children in all our work.

 
  
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  Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE). - (SK) Madam President, according to UNICEF data, the child pornography industry continues to flourish, unfortunately, and about 1 million children are abused and exploited for this contemptible purpose. Child pornography and the sexual abuse and exploitation of children are a gross violation of the basic rights of a child enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. However, it is the duty of lawmakers at EU and Member State level to adopt concrete legislation to prevent this particularly serious crime from being committed.

The duty to protect children, who are the most vulnerable members of society, surely requires solving the problem through the toughest legal measures of criminal law. The serious nature of the act therefore justifies the adoption of sweeping criminal penalties and measures, including custodial sentences, which should be differentiated according to their level of seriousness, in order to achieve the necessary deterrent effect.

The nature and method of committing these crimes is mutating considerably in the anonymous environment of the Internet, which often encourages crime, and laws must take account of this and respond sufficiently flexibly, leaving no loopholes. The supranational and even global nature of this crime allows the perpetrators to avoid penalties outside the EU, and international cooperation is therefore essential, in my opinion. I therefore support the idea of the Commission initiating a discussion aimed at achieving an internationally binding agreement.

 
  
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  Anna Záborská (PPE). - (SK) Madam President, I would first like to thank Ms Angelilli and also the Commissioner for their effective cooperation in producing this directive. Child pornography does not exist in reality. It is only the crime of sexually abusing children in the creation of a visual recording that exists. It is only the production of photographs and video recordings of particularly serious crimes that exists. If we bear this fact in mind, it is clear that blocking Internet pages that have this content is not an adequate response. Our priority must be to protect the human dignity of children. This will be ensured by removing such content from servers. Blocking access to specific sites should be used only in situations where harmful content cannot be immediately deleted.

I would also like to mention another aspect. We should take every means to involve parents in the fight against child abuse and sexual exploitation, particularly in relation to the Internet. Imagine the number of mothers and fathers waiting for help from psychologists, teachers, sociologists, doctors, police officers, criminologists and judges. This is because their children are in difficult situations and the parents look for an excuse in the fact that they were ignorant of the threat to their children. I would like to ask the Commissioner: What is the European Commission doing to encourage parental responsibility? What, according to the Commission, is the role of parents when it comes to respecting and protecting the rights of the child? Perhaps I have overlooked this aspect in the documents of the Commission. Parents figure there usually and almost exclusively as those who fail to fulfil their obligations to children, or commit violence against them.

 
  
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  Hubert Pirker (PPE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, President-in-Office of the Council, I am very pleased that a package of measures aimed at combating child abuse has been agreed, protecting the weakest members of our society, namely our children. In future, the European Union as a whole is to have mandatory minimum sentencing for child abuse, child prostitution, child pornography and child sex tourism. Internet providers and travel agents, who indirectly profit from these shameful acts, can expect stringent penalties. Child sex tourism will be subject to criminal prosecution in all Member States, even if the crime itself was committed outside the European Union. For me it is also important that Member States should be obliged to shut down child pornography sites and to block access to foreign sites.

I am convinced that our resolution on the excellent Angelilli report will effectively combat child abuse and child pornography and provide greater protection for the weakest members of our society.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Madam President, in 2009 more than 6 million young people dropped out of school. Of these 17.4% only completed primary schooling. This is why one of the priority targets of the Europe 2020 strategy is to reduce the school dropout rate to below 10%.

Providing access to education and pre-school care for all children is essential for social integration, personal development and entry into working life. The European Union’s objective is to ensure a high level of protection for children when they are online, including their personal data, while supporting their right to access the Internet as a beneficial tool for their social and cultural development.

The Safer Internet Programme coordinates and support the efforts at European Union level to empower and protect children on the Internet. Various sectors of the information technology and communications industry have been involved in raising the level of protection provided to children who use a mobile phone and social networking services.

Commissioner, I call for the continuation of the Safer Internet Programme.

 
  
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  Phil Prendergast (S&D). - Madam President, the need to adapt our child protection policies to effectively tackle the realities of the 21st century is undeniable. In particular, the possibility of introducing technical blocking mechanisms to prevent individuals from gaining access to online sexually exploitative content depicting a child is a welcome development.

It has been said of this policy that it is unproven and that it potentially undermines freedom of information and communication on the Internet. Colleagues, in law and in reality there is no such thing as an absolute right or freedom, but instead each freedom is qualified and must be balanced against opposing freedoms. The right to freely communicate does not preclude the need to protect the fundamental rights of children and minors.

Secondly, I support this proposal’s aim to legislate for victims’ rights. This proposal puts victims’ rights on a statutory footing and in general encompasses the provision of adequate support to victims before, during and after a criminal investigation.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE). - Madam President, any abuse of children is a heinous, appalling reprehensible act. It has gone on for years but it has only recently come into the public domain and perhaps no place more than my own country, where reports have highlighted the abuse of children by clergy and members of religious orders. As a result certain actions have been taken to protect children and to deal with the offenders.

Indeed, I am pleased to say that the government is introducing a referendum to the constitution to further guarantee the rights of the child. It is good that we are discussing this here today, because we can give it a broader dimension, particularly in terms of bringing legislation onto a European-wide basis which can guarantee the rights of children and protect them in the future.

We also need to concentrate on education, and especially in relation to social media which are being used more and more to attract children into situations where they can be abused.

 
  
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  Eduard Kukan (PPE). – (SK) Madam President, the sexual abuse of children has an increasing number of dimensions. It is an alarming trend. The possible consequences are appalling for the abused children and for society as a whole. One of the current manifestations of child sexual abuse is the dissemination of child pornography on the Internet. Unfortunately, current legislation is not enough to fight this problem effectively. We must therefore look for a solution that will limit the dissemination of child pornography and the abuse of children as much as possible. There is talk of identifying and blocking websites, and of stricter punishments for those who commit these offences. The objection that this might lead to a restriction on freedom of information is irrelevant, in my opinion. There is often an international dimension to this type of criminality. The lack of mechanisms for enforcing the law in this area must therefore be counterbalanced with tougher penalties at European level, and greater coherence between the legal systems of EU Member States.

 
  
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  Csaba Sógor (PPE).(HU) Madam President, the problem of child sexual abuse and exploitation cannot be separated from the issue of making the Internet safer. The opportunities provided by the World Wide Web have in most cases brought about positive changes in our society, but the situation is different with this issue. The Internet is the main arena nowadays for child pornography.

It also needs to be noted that children and young people are in the most vulnerable situation. In this regard, the young people at greatest risk are those in the poorer Member States, mainly in central-eastern Europe, as it is there that levels of child poverty are most alarming.

Given the exceptionally prominent role of the Internet, there can be no question that concerted action is needed by the Member States to address the problem.

 
  
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  Angelika Werthmann (NI).(DE) Madam President, children’s rights are enshrined in Article 24 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by all 27 Member States. The fact that children’s rights exist is one thing, but their implementation is quite another. It is essential that these rights should be monitored. According to a survey conducted in 2009, only about 22% of children are aware of the existence of children’s rights. This is an untenable situation because children need protection. The Commission must establish clear framework conditions that are as simple as possible. These framework conditions must support and protect parents, who have custody of their children and who are therefore responsible for them, in observing and exercising their parental duties. Thank you, particularly to Ms Angelilli for this report.

 
  
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  Cecilia Malmström, Member of the Commission. Madam President, I should like to say thank you very much to all who took part for a most interesting and very important debate. I would like to highlight a few things, because much has been said.

Baroness Ludford asked me about the countries that have not acceded to the hotline number 116000. In the revised Universal Service Directive it says that the Member States should have made every effort to accede to this by 25 May of this year, and still 11 countries have not done so. It also says that the Member States shall inform citizens that it exists and facilitate the operation of services in order to comply with this. It is up to the Member States to choose how they promote the hotline. In order to raise awareness, allow exchanges of best practices and identify practical tools, the Commission is organising best practices meetings and high-level meetings with stakeholders and will continue to do so every year until all countries have made sure that it is operational.

I also had a question from Ms Nedelcheva on the Convention of the Rights of the Child. It is more complicated than it might seem to adhere to this, because the European Union can – as the Members well know – only act within the limits of the competence conferred on it by the Treaties. Moreover, in accordance with the articles in the actual Convention of the Rights of the Child, the instrument is open only to state parties. For these reasons the Commission does not, therefore, envisage acceding to the Convention. However, the EU agenda for the rights of the child reaffirms the importance of the Convention and will do everything to make sure that all EU legislation and proposals are in line with that Convention.

I would also like to highlight something that might be a misunderstanding; I do not wish to open the debate again but want to assure you that nobody has promoted, proposed or envisaged introducing blocking instead of deletion; that has never been an issue.

What we should do – and this is very clear in the Commission proposal, and I am very happy to have the huge support in this House – is ensure that Member States delete at source. This is the only way to combat child pornography on line. We shall delete at source. However, we all know that with the majority of these horrible sites – and I do not know if you have seen them (there are toddlers on these sites) – there are a lot of people making huge amounts of money every time someone sees those babies being abused, and every time someone looks at it they are abused again, again and again.

The majority of these sites are not hosted in the European Union: that is why the Commission proposes that the Member States should block access to the content until it can be removed at source. In this proposal it says that Member States may now do so. Of course, we must also cooperate with the countries which host the majority of these sites, and we are engaged in very active negotiations, talks and collaboration with, for instance, the United States on this – they are moving forward – and also with Russia and other states.

Having said this, I think you, Ms Angelilli, with the massive support and praise you have got in this plenary from the Left to the Right, can be very proud of what you have achieved. We can all be proud: the Council, the Commission, Parliament and yourself, because with this we are providing good tools to prevent, to protect and to prosecute people who commit these offences. We are also sending the very important political signal that sexual abuse of children like this is not acceptable, and this is a clear message from the whole of the European Union. Thank you very much for a very important debate and very important work.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, President-in-Office of the Council.(PL) Madam President, Ms Malmström, I am pleased by the unanimity which prevails in the Chamber on the need to fight sex crimes committed against children. We can say today that the route to the formal adoption of this instrument at first reading stands wide open before us. I am also sure that the compromise which has been agreed, thanks in great measure to the efforts of the rapporteur, will allow the rapid adoption of this directive.

I have listened with interest to all of the speakers here in this debate. Each one showed enormous interest in the needs of children, who are a very special kind of victim. The situation demands that we react as new developments arise. We must respond to threats as they appear, particularly because very many of them are related to the development of modern technology such as the Internet. Therefore, with this directive we are bringing in measures which make a radical contribution to strengthening the protection of persons under the age of 18 years by creating new offences, which include a number of crimes associated with the use of modern technologies. As the European Union we do not want to lag behind international organisations and we must not allow this to happen. May this resolution be a very plain, clear and unequivocal signal to the European Union’s citizens that we are treating the work of protecting children as very important and as a priority. In this case it is a signal which is all the more important because it is on us – on adults – that there rests here a particular responsibility to remember the children – those who themselves are not able to protect their own interests.

I would like once again to thank very sincerely everyone who has been involved in this work, and in closing to express the conviction and the hope that the instrument – the proposal for a directive which we have discussed today – will not become a paper tiger or just a law on paper, but will be a real instrument for improving the legal protection of children and for prosecuting crimes perpetrated against them.

 
  
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  Roberta Angelilli, rapporteur.(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, this has been a very long, fruitful and exhaustive debate. I am really pleased with the level of participation, not only in putting this text together but also in this afternoon’s debate.

Clearly, the aim is to really clamp down on these acts, while we have also taken great care to stress the importance of prevention, assistance and support for victims and their families, and training for anyone who can provide support, care and assistance. I also think it is important to say to adults, parents and teachers that we need to fill the generational technology gap that often keeps adults far removed from social networks and the Internet, and therefore far removed from a world that is very familiar to children.

I would like to clarify something with regard to the Internet and, in general terms, the virtual world: there must be no fears that removing child pornography could be tantamount to censorship, limiting freedom of expression or information, or even that it could represent a criminalisation of the Internet and new forms of communication. Quite the contrary. The Internet is a huge asset and offers an enormous opportunity for communication and socialising: our goal and the goal pursued by the directive is simply to tackle the abuse, violence and exploitation that could, unfortunately, be fostered on the Internet through photos, images or films. Therefore, only items related to these extremely serious crimes will be subject to removal, so there will be absolutely no censorship or limitation on the freedom of expression.

I should also like to spare a mention for Ms Sippel, whom I thank once again for her input on this task. I too am perhaps a little disappointed that the text does not contain concordance tables. We initially included them in the recitals and therefore within the body of the directive. As we know, negotiations have been tortuous and very difficult, but in my opinion we should in any case be happy and satisfied with the outcome.

I would like to conclude by stating my agreement with something that Ms Malmström mentioned: perhaps something more could be done on the issue of sex tourism. True, something more could be done, even though the directive gives Member States that want to do more the possibility to take action.

At the same time, we can say that this is a rigorous, exhaustive and groundbreaking text. I am very pleased with it as, I think, are my fellow Members. I should like to thank once again the shadow rapporteurs and all the Members who contributed to the positive outcome of this text, as well as Ms Malmström and of course the Council, the Hungarian Presidency, and above all the Polish Presidency.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow (Thursday, 27 October 2011).

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Ivo Belet (PPE), in writing. (NL) With the agreement that we are going to seal tomorrow, we will be better able to protect our children against all forms of sexual abuse, including that which takes place on the Internet. The punishment for violations will be substantially increased and there will be a lot more attention on the protection of victims of child abuse. Online grooming (befriending children for the purposes of sexual abuse) and child sex tourism will become illegal in all Member States, both on EU territory and abroad when EU citizens are involved. As regards child pornography on the Internet, not only will the possession of child pornography be made punishable, but also visiting child pornography websites. Parliament has ensured that Member States are now required to remove child pornography from the Internet and thus to allocate all their resources to detecting their source. After all, it is not sufficient to block access to websites and leave tackling the problem at that. In addition, the website blocking technology is not perfect and the risk of blocking more websites than is necessary is very real. It is therefore good that we are requiring Member States to ensure that there is transparency about website blocking and that there are sufficient safeguards to prevent collateral damage.

 
  
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  Sergio Berlato (PPE), in writing.(IT) Sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, are serious violations of fundamental rights, in particular the rights of the child to such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, as stipulated by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The directive we are shortly to adopt is the first measure looking at a specific area of criminal law: the protection of children against sexual exploitation, sexual abuse and child pornography. Having spent years fighting actively against paedophilia, I can only welcome this new directive, which works on three fronts: preventing the crimes, harsher criminal sanctions for offenders and greater protection for victims. Furthermore, the directive introduces innovative measures designed to combat all kinds of abuse: it introduces the crime of grooming, defines the crime of sex tourism within the Union, brings in restrictions to avoid offences being repeated and provides for the seizure and confiscation of assets deriving from the crime of child pornography. Lastly, I think that giving Member States the power to take the necessary measures to ensure the immediate deletion of web pages containing or disseminating child pornography is a significant step forward in the fight against abuse

 
  
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  Carlos Coelho (PPE), in writing.(PT) International law sets high standards for the protection of children, yet its implementation at national level often falls short of its objective of ensuring that they are adequately protected. National legislation makes up for some of these problems, to varying degrees, but it is not sufficiently rigorous or consistent to provide a vigorous social and criminal law response. The new directive should ensure that there is a comprehensive legal framework covering the following aspects: repression in terms of the effective, proportionate and prohibitive punishment of sexual abuse and exploitation of children by introducing stiffer penalties and new kinds of criminal offence; increased protection for victims through adequate and ongoing assistance, always with a view to the child’s best interests; and prevention through prohibitive measures, reduced demand and measures to reduce the risk of children becoming victims. Adequate and effective research techniques and instruments are also necessary, as are initiatives to raise awareness and provide education, along with the creation of help lines or emergency hotlines. However, it is imperative that the policy objectives set out by the Commission in the EU strategy on the rights of the child also be translated as quickly as possible into concrete action.

 
  
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  Elżbieta Katarzyna Łukacijewska (PPE), in writing.(PL) Statistics show that from 10% to 20% of children in Europe fall prey to sexual molestation in their childhood. It is an alarming fact that the scale of sexual violence among children is continually on the increase. Also growing is the number of Internet pages featuring child pornography. To tackle sexual molestation and child pornography it is necessary to have not only the commitment of social activists and politicians, but also the cooperation of parents, teachers and school psychologists. Also needed is improved cooperation in organising effective social campaigns which aim to make society aware that pornography is not a minor problem but a real threat to society.

Personally, I think the EU’s response to the phenomena of child pornography and the sexual exploitation of children must be sharp and decisive. I hope it will be possible to establish a transnational cooperation programme which will enable the tracing, location and punishment of people who exploit children and the removal of Internet portals which engage in the distribution of pornographic materials involving the participation of children.

 
  
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  Rovana Plumb (S&D), in writing. The status of children has been the focus of international attention for a number of years, most notably in the drawing up of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children are also increasingly affected by a whole range of EU policies and legislation. The Commission has made an effort to define a so-called ‘EU agenda on the rights of the child’. However, its communication focuses mainly on legal dimensions, which – although of major importance in their own right – do not take proper account of the critical importance of appropriate socio-economic policies for children. We may not achieve the target of curbing the level of poverty by helping 20 million persons improve their standard of life by 2020, if we do not have a strategic approach on children and children-related components. We should develop and implement an EU Strategy to halve child-poverty by 2020, and break the spiral of poverty in general. We consider necessary to mainstream individual children’s rights in all EU policies, monitoring and evaluating the steps undertaken to end child poverty, identifying and developing priority actions, aiming to enhance data collection and to further develop common indicators at EU level.

 
  
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  Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid (PPE), in writing.(FR) As the Commission pointed out, it is estimated that between 10% and 20% of children in Europe will suffer sexual abuse during their childhood. Those macabre figures are enough to make you shiver, and if nothing is done to curb this sad phenomenon, the situation will inexorably worsen, affecting ever younger children, with ever more violence. The Council and Parliament have agreed to harmonise and strengthen the preventive and coercive measures to combat sexual abuse and child pornography. Child grooming, sex tourism – including outside Europe – and the production and use of child pornography material will be more severely punished where EU nationals are involved. The text on which we are voting today provides the Member States with effective weapons to combat this phenomenon. I refer in particular to the possibility of blocking websites with child pornography content, and so not stopping at procedures for removing the site, which can be lengthy and unreliable when the site is hosted abroad. It is estimated that 80% of sexual abuse is committed by people with authority over the child or who are in the child’s close family circle. Let us not add the shortcomings of an ill-adapted legal framework to the rule of silence already hanging over the victims.

 
  
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  Joanna Senyszyn (S&D), in writing.(PL) The scale of the sexual exploitation of children is very large and affects all the Member States. Research conducted in Poland by the Nobody’s Children Foundation has shown that 9% of girls and 6% of boys have had sexual contact with an adult before reaching the age of 15.

I call upon all countries which still have not done so to ratify the Lanzarote Convention – the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. I appeal in particular to the Polish Presidency to set a good example and ratify the convention without delay. Combating sex crimes requires preventative measures. Public information campaigns are needed for children and parents. It is necessary to initiate Union-funded educational programmes in schools. Children have to be aware of what kinds of situation and behaviour are dangerous, and they have to know where to report such incidents. Only by working in this way can we reduce the scale of the sexual exploitation of children. The Member States should be providing regular training for officials who may come into contact with children who have been the victims of sexual exploitation. Such officials have to know how to identify crime, and they have to have the ability and the skills necessary to intervene. The Member States should also be giving support to child victims and their families. International cooperation on the prosecution of crimes, the protection of child victims and preventative measures requires urgent adaptation to the needs of the hour.

 
  
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  Claudiu Ciprian Tănăsescu (S&D), in writing.(RO) Victims of sexual abuse can come from any socio-cultural background, any Member State and any social level. Therefore, it is important for us to join forces to find an effective method of tackling the problem of the increased incidence of crime involving the sexual abuse of children.

Member States approach this issue in different ways. However, thanks to the development of state-of-the-art communication media with a cross-border influence, I think that we need a joint strategy for improving global cooperation, not only between authorities in the EU, but also between police agencies and Internet operators. On the other hand, as the sexual abuse of children is very often the result of the interaction between the personality of the perpetrator and the social context that he or she is in, apart from focusing attention on the children who are victims of sexual abuse, it is important to focus increased attention as well on finding suitable measures for decreasing the chances of the perpetrators of this abuse reoffending, in other words, measures leading to their rehabilitation.

 
  
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  Artur Zasada (PPE), in writing. Protecting the young and innocent of the world is a fundamentally sound human rights choice. Thus, the European Union has continued its efforts to extend its influence worldwide and address the issue of child pornography. Children are without a doubt the future leaders and require the protection of global institutions. Therefore, the legislation being implemented by the EU is determined in its endeavour to protect all children. The European Union has instituted (in brief) the following legislation: sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, constitute serious violations of fundamental rights, in particular the rights of the child to protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, as stipulated by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. This legislation cannot and will not be taken lightly and represents the protection of the young and innocent citizens of our Union. I strongly support this legislation and stand behind the EU’s decision to further protect the future and innocence of these children as they continue to grow and develop in the fabric of the Christian values of the European Union.

 
Last updated: 6 February 2012Legal notice