The European Commission has set out plans to tighten EU law to protect children from online abuse. Announced by European Commission Vice President Jacques Barrot in charge of Justice, Freedom and Security, the proposals are aimed at replacing two existing legislations which took effect in 2004 and 2002 respectively
Vice President Barrot said: “We want to build an EU that is truly able to protect the most vulnerable citizens against the most terrible crimes. When we say trafficking in human beings we are talking about women and girls reduced to sexual slavery, children beaten and mistreated, forced to beg and to steal, young adults compelled to work in appalling conditions for hunger wages. When we speak about child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, we are speaking about horrendous crimes against children that leave deep scars and suffering for their whole lives.”
The proposals, which have yet to be adopted by the 27 member states, would unify approaches to online grooming and the viewing of child pornography across the EU. So called “Sex tourists” from EU states who abused children outside the EU would also face prosecution on their return home and would include new EU rules to curb people-trafficking. Currently under UK law, British nationals who commit sex offences against children abroad can already be prosecuted in the UK, even if their actions were legal in the country they visited.
Under the new proposals on child sexual abuse, offenders will be imprisoned for at least six years instead of one year at present. Offenses in aggravating circumstances will get 10 years instead of five years. Sexual abuses that may endanger the life of children will get 12-year sentences. The proposal will also remove the time limit within which child sexual abuse offenses must be denounced, making prosecution easier and those convicted will have their offenses in their criminal records so that they will not be able to find jobs involving direct contacts with children, even in other EU member states.
The commission says that in 2008 more than 1,000 commercial and about 500 non-commercial websites depicting child sex abuse were found – 71% of them in the US and the majority of the non-commercial sites were peer-to-peer services. CEOP will lead the work of the European Financial Coalition said that up to 300 commercial child abuse websites were available at any one time and earnt well in excess of â¬30m (Â£26.8m) a year. CEOP processed 1.6m images in the past year alone and identified and rescued 50 children.
If adopted, the new proposals would mean free legal services for victims of abuse and authorities in the EU could bring people traffickers and “sex tourists” to justice even if they committed their crimes outside the EU.
The proposals will be discussed in the EU Council of Ministers and will be translated into national legislations once approved.
“Our message is clear…Europe will continue to set the highest and most ambitious standards in fighting them,” Barrot said.