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Brussels, 25 March 2009

Proposal for a Council Framework Decision on combating the sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, repealing Framework Decision 2004/68/JHA

Today the European Commission adopted a Proposal for a new Council Framework Decision on combating sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, aimed at stepping up prosecution of criminal, protection of child victims and prevention of offences.

What is the problem to be addressed?

‘Sexual exploitation’ and ‘sexual abuse of children’ refer to different forms of acts, such as sexual relations with a child in the absence of free will or under a certain age, child prostitution or child pornography. They are particularly serious crimes against children, who need special protection and care, and produce long-lasting and serious harm to child victims.

Underlying causes are found mainly in the vulnerability of children from different factors, like gender, young age, disability, poverty and social exclusion, as well as lack of a properly-functioning social support network -

What is the scale of the problem?

While there is no doubt that the sexual abuse and exploitation of children is a serious problem, there is a lack of accurate and reliable statistics on the nature of the phenomenon and the numbers of children involved, due to differences in national definitions of various child sexual abuse and exploitation offences, very significant underreporting by victims, and inadequate data collection mechanisms. Studies suggest that a significant minority of children in Europe, between 10% and 20% as an informed scientific estimate, will be sexually assaulted during their childhood.

Research also suggests that this phenomenon is not decreasing over time, but rather that certain forms of sexual violence (such as abuse of teenagers) are on the rise. The child victims portrayed in pornography are getting younger, and the images are becoming more graphic and more violent.

Why is the new Framework Decision needed?

Fighting these crimes is very difficult. Children are vulnerable, ashamed and afraid to report what has happened to them. The Internet makes it easier to groom (the on-line solicitation of children for sexual purposes) children or to produce and distribute child pornography. In some cases, such as sex tourism or child pornography, abuse happens in different countries, and this, together with national differences in legislation, makes it difficult for authorities to act. Some convicted offenders go on to abuse children after their sentences. Furthermore organized crime can make a high profit from it with little risk.

National legislation covers some of these problems to varying degrees. However, it is not strong or consistent enough to provide a vigorous social response to this disturbing phenomenon.

The EU main instrument to fight child sexual exploitation, Council Framework Decision 2004/68/JHA, introduces a minimum of approximation of Member States’ legislation.. Due to the short existence of this legal framework it has a number of shortcomings.

What's new in the proposal for a Framework Decision?

The proposal repeals framework decision 2004/68/JHA and builds upon the 2007 Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and provides further added value.

The new Framework Decision covers action on different fronts:

  • On substantive criminal law in general, serious forms of child sexual abuse and exploitation currently not covered by EU legislation would be criminalised
  • On developments in the IT environment, new forms of sexual abuse and exploitation facilitated by the use of the Internet would be criminalised, such as grooming or viewing child pornography without downloading the files
  • On criminal investigation and initiation of proceedings, a number of provisions would be introduced to assist with investigating offences and the bringing about of charges, in the absence of reporting by the child victim
  • On prosecution of offences committed abroad, rules on jurisdiction would be amended to ensure that child sexual abusers or exploiters from the EU face prosecution even if they commit their crimes in a non-EU country, via so-called sex tourism
  • On protection of victims, new provisions would ensure that abused children have easy access to legal remedies and do not suffer for participating in criminal proceedings e.g. by limiting the number of interviews, providing for legal aid or for a special representative
  • On prevention of offences, special programmes should be accessible for offenders to prevent that they commit new offences, and prohibitions imposed on them of carrying out activities with children should be implemented throughout the EU. In addition, national mechanisms to block access to websites with child pornography, which are most often located outside EU, should be put in place under the supervision of judicial or police

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