Thursday, January 17, 2008

Suffer Little Children: EU discusses a child's right not to be exploited online

The rights of children and what strategy the European Union should take to safeguard them was debated in Strasbourg on Tuesday. The rise of paedophiles using the internet to contact children and exchange child pornography was a particular cause for concern. Efforts to work with credit card companies to stop people buying child pornography and blocking access to certain sites were among the measures discussed in the report by Roberta Angelilli (UEN).

In the debate Ms Angelilli stressed that the rights of children should be considered "in all aspects of child policy". Hungarian MEP Kinga Gál spoke of the need to prevent poverty and discrimination - both of which undermine children's rights. Swedish Socialist MEP Inger Segelström said all children should be covered by EU legislation and each EU country had a responsibility to prevent human trafficking. Estonian Liberal Siiri Oviir called the protection of children's rights "the basis of the society of tomorrow".


The world-wide-web has created a new area of anonymity for those preying on children, with child pornography being rampant. It is illegal to exploit children via the internet and several cases have shown the police are capable of tracking down offenders. Tuesday's debate centres on a report by Italian MEP Roberta Angelilli (UEN).

A bleak assessment of the problem by Interpol says that "the internet...and digital cameras have made it easier for individuals with a sexual interest in children to record their activities". A major problem for law enforcement agencies is that many sites and children being abused are not in the EU - but in the developing world.

In a speech on children's rights in Berlin in June last year the EU's Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini told delegates he was "saddened and shocked" to hear that the number of sites with child-sex material went up 1500% from 1997 to 2005.

Stopping payment by credit cards

The Angelilli report lays down a number of options to deal with these disturbing trends.

Blocking credit card payment for paedophile material is one step advocated by the report. This would involve cooperation with credit card companies to get them to block certain sites from receiving money for the material they sell.

Stopping access to sites is another possibility. This would mean internet service providers and search engines using technology available to hamper access to dangerous sites. Closing down sites is another option, although this could only be done if they are based in the EU.

These steps would go hand in hand with a database of sites that sells child pornography. Finally a website dedicated to the rights of the child - so they know what rights they have - is another idea in the report.

Definition of crimes of sexual exploitation

In an effort to tackle the growth of child pornography on the internet and in print EU ministers agreed in 2004 what constitutes an offence, making the production, dissemination and transmission of child pornography illegal and also making it an offence to offer, make available or possess child pornography.

There is a "safer internet" programme running across Europe that aims to warn people of the dangers the internet can pose to children. Young people are drawn to the internet by its fascinating variety - the Angelilli report aims to stop those who prey on children from using this interest against them.

Source: European Parliament