The European Parliament is examining a directive which it and the Council adopted in 2011, Directive 2011/93/EU on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The directive covers the prosecution of offenders, the protection of child victims, and the prevention of the phenomenon. The European Parliament is evaluating this directive on its effectiveness during the last few years and to update its legal framework.
In light of this debate, the European Parliament organised a public hearing on “Child sexual abuse and exploitation online and office: time to act.” The hearing presented evidence from experts around the measures taken to implement the directive, to identify gaps in the application of existing rules and mechanisms, and to compare best practices in the member states and the USA.
The hearing started with an emotional opening speech from Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Corazza Bildt from Sweden. She recalled the figures of the report by the Internet Watch Foundation, which shows that 60 % of all child sexual abuse materials are now in Europe, an increase of 19%. Moreover, the report states that the EU is the biggest host of child abuse materials, ahead of North America.
Children are not only at risk of exploitation, but at risk for exposure to harmful pornographic materials, whose production may well involve sexual abuse. The EU’s 100 million children spend more time online than previous generations, and may be exposed to harmful content unless appropriate protections are put in place. “After we have failed with the data protection regulation to fix a common age for parental control and effective ways to protect children online, it looks like we are failing again in the EU with the audio visual media directive, where the intergroup on children rights tried to put for some basic amendments for the protection of children, but we didn’t get a majority for this this morning,” stated MEP Corazza Bildt, referencing the vote on amendments to the audio-visual media services directive 2010/13/eu which failed to protect children from pornography.
The EU legislation needs to be updated to include new crimes which children need protection from online, such as revenge pornography, suicide on Facebook, sexual explotation, etc. “It is not about censorship, ideology or freedom of the media or freedom of expression, but its about the protection of children,” said Ms. Bildt, expressing her sorrow at the failure to adopt protective measures.
Mr Wouter van Ballegooie & Ms Amandine Scherrer presented an in-depth analysis of the state of play of the application of Directive 2011/93/EU. Ms Scherrer said that “the widespread use of the internet and new technologies has lead to increased opportunities for sexually abusing children.” The devastating consequences of child sexual abuse on victims shows that most victims suffer long lasting physical and psychological trauma, which can follow them well in adulthood.
A culture of prevention is missing in the EU, so there is a need to educate children and increase awareness on the issue of child sexual abuse. Cross border monitoring is key.
Ms Mieke de Vlaminck of Eurojust emphasised the need to facilitate cross border cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation through judicial cooperation.
MEP Jurek intervened in the discussion, by saying that there is a need for a culture shift in order to combat child sexual abuse, saying “what is ‘valid’ today, may become the abuse of tomorrow,” as we increase our understanding of harms and decide not to tolerate harmful sites such as those that encourage minors to share nude photographs of themselves.
Deputy Director General for Security at DG HOME, Mr Olivier Onidi of the European Commission, assessed the implementation of article 25 of Directive 2011/93/EU, which very much focusses on 3 points: first, prevention through means such as education of children and their families about online risks; secondly, investigation from hotlines to search proactively for sexual abuse content and the mandated reporting by the industry to report of material of child sexual abuse that they find; and thirdly, prosecution of sexual abusers.
Two speakers, one from the United States and one from France introduced best practices to combat child sexual abuse from their own countries. Mr Alexandre Linden from Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertes (CNIL) stated that, “the fight against pornography depends on internet professionals.” He presented a tool to block internet pages in France. This blocking mechanism blocks internet pages concerning child pornography content (96.8%) and terrorism content (3.2%) Between 2014 and 2016 child pornography content online increased by 167%. In 2014 there were 1897 cases concerning online child pornography, in 2015, there were 4875 cases, and in 2016, 7341 cases. In France, 99.2% of those images hosted in France are deleted.
Robust decisions need to be taken to protect children from sexual abuse and child pornography; we need to change our society and our culture to make such abuses unthinkable. World Youth Alliance is working hard to promote a better and stronger protection of children online, starting with the introduction of legal protections in the new Audiovisual media services directive to prevent children’s exposure to harmful content; sadly, the European Parliament is hesitating to introduce such protections.
To help us protect children from pornography, sign our online petition here.
Written by Marie-Christine Alting von de Geusau WYA Europe intern.
 Mr Alexandre Linden from Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertes (CNIL)