BRUSSELS: Child pornography or child abuse material on the web must be removed at the source in all European Union (EU) countries, the Civil Liberties Committee said on Monday, in amendments to proposed new EU rules to prevent abuse, stiffen penalties, and protect victims.
Civil Liberties Committee Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) made a series of amendments Monday to a proposed EU directive to combat sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. It comes as studies suggest that between 10 percent and 20 percent of all minors in Europe may be sexually assaulted during their childhood.
The original Commission proposal would have made the blocking of web sites hosting child pornography mandatory for EU Member States. But MEPs instead advocate the removal at the source and, should that prove impossible, allow Member States to "prevent access" to this material.
EU Member States must impose binding requirements to ensure the "removal at source of internet pages containing or disseminating child pornography or child abuse material," MEPs said in a statement.
The EU must also co-operate with third countries to secure the prompt removal of such material from servers hosted in those countries, they add.
Should removal at source prove impossible, for example because the state where servers are hosted is unwilling to co-operate or because its procedure for removing the material from servers is particularly long, Member States "may take the necessary measures in accordance with national legislation to prevent access to such content in their territory," the MEPs said. The adopted amendment therefore in no way prevents any Member State from blocking sites, in line with its national law.
National measures preventing access "must be set by transparent procedures and provide adequate safeguards, in particular to ensure that the restriction is limited to what is necessary and proportionate, and that users are informed of the reason for the restriction," the MEPs said. Content providers and users must also be informed of the possibility to appeal, and to whom to appeal, under a judicial redress procedure, they added.
The new rules would also introduce tougher penalties across the EU for those who sexually abuse or exploit children. The proposal sets minimum penalties for 22 criminal offences, but also allows Member States to impose harsher measures and sentencing.
Offenders would face penalties ranging from one to over ten years in prison, depending on the crime. And since some 20 percent of sex offenders go on to commit further offences after conviction, according to figures, MEPs stipulate that convicted offenders "may be temporarily or permanently prevented from exercising professional activities involving direct and regular contact with children and volunteer activities related to the supervision and/or care of children."
When recruiting, employers will be entitled to obtain information on any convictions for sex crimes. After recruitment, if serious suspicion arises, employers may still request such information, even if it has to be obtained from criminal records held in other EU countries. Member States may also take other measures, such as putting in place "sex offenders registers" accessible to the judiciary and/or law enforcement agencies, add MEPs.
Abuse by persons in a position of trust, authority or influence over the child, for instance, family members, guardians or teachers, is included in, and punishable under, the new criminal offences. Higher sentences would also be imposed on anyone committing an offence involving children with a physical or mental disability, in a situation of dependence or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
"Sex tourists" travelling abroad to abuse children will also face prosecution, under the new rules on jurisdiction.
In addition, new forms of abuse and exploitation will also be criminalized. Among these new forms of abuse is 'grooming': the befriending of children through the internet with the intention of sexually abusing them: and making children pose sexually in front of webcams. MEPs have also added a rule that offenders who use different means to target a great number of children so as to multiply their chances of committing the crime would face harsher penalties.
MEPs further strengthened proposed rules on assisting, supporting and protecting victims, to ensure that they have easy access to legal remedies and do not suffer from participating in criminal investigations and trials.
Negotiations between Parliament and Council representatives will continue in the coming months, with a view to reaching a compromise preferably in the first half of 2011. Once adopted, this directive will replace current EU legislation dating from 2004. Member States would then have two years to transpose the new rules into their national laws.
(BNO NEWS )