5 September 2002
Sexual exploitation of children: zero tolerance
Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee
Rapporteur: Mr Fiorello Provera, Italy, Liberal, Democratic and Reformers’ Group
It is now time for the Assembly to make clear its political determination to reject this scourge and to move on from words to deeds.
Among other measures, the Assembly invites the member states to declare as a national objective the fight against sexual exploitation of children in any form and to adopt legislation at the very least in line with the principles set out in Recommendation (2001) 16 of the Council of Europe.
The member states are invited to adopt a zero tolerance, proactive policy which, inter alia, gives priority attention to the rights and views of child victims and which strives actively to find and identify victims so that they may be rehabilitated and fairly compensated.
Also recommended are increased means to combat computer crimes, help for civil society, and the setting up at national level of ombudsmen for children and «observatories» of sexual crimes and abuses against children.
Finally, the opportunity offered by the European Convention, set up to revise the European Union institutions, should be taken to propose ways of remedying the deficiencies in children’s rights.
1. Draft resolution
1. The international community has, especially since 1996, been taking action to combat the sexual exploitation of children. All the international governmental and non-governmental organisations concerned have been striving, and devising an arsenal of measures and proposals, to eradicate this scourge.
2. The Assembly nevertheless has to note that the sexual exploitation (through trafficking, prostitution and child pornography) of minors is unremitting and knows no borders, whether geographical, cultural or social, and that we are a long way from halting its expansion. The Internet, on account of its increasing numbers of users, the anonymity it offers and its ease of use, poses a dangerous threat to children.
3. The Assembly believes that it would be futile to create new legal instruments. The member states of the Council of Europe have yet to subscribe to - and to apply - those that already exist, particularly a recent Council of Europe recommendation, namely Recommendation (2001) 16 on the protection of children against sexual exploitation. We must move on from words to deeds and make clear our determination to reject the sexual exploitation of children in any form.
4. The Assembly therefore invites all Council of Europe member states:
i. to adopt legislation which is, at the very least, in line with the principles set out in Recommendation (2001) 16 on the protection of children against sexual exploitation, and, in order to achieve this, to request the assistance of the group of specialists set up at the Council of Europe;
ii. to declare the combating of sexual exploitation in any form a national objective, and, should priorities have to be decided in this context, to give precedence to eradicating the dangers posed to children by the Internet, in the light of its present and future impact;
iii. to ratify the Council of Europe's recent Convention on Cybercrime, which is aimed particularly at child pornography on the Internet.
5. The Assembly calls on states to take a zero tolerance approach to crime against children, that is to say, to adopt a proactive policy:
i. which allows no crime or attempted crime to go unpunished;
ii. which gives priority attention to the rights and views of child victims and which strives actively to find and identify victims so that they may be rehabilitated and fairly compensated;
iii. which aims to arrest criminals without giving them the slightest possibility - especially on procedural or geographical grounds - of eluding justice, and which applies penalties severe enough to fit the crime;
iv. which uses every means to prevent further offences, including compulsory treatment for offenders and the banning of convicted criminals from certain occupations which come into contact with children.
6. The Assembly asks every member state to acquire the means to combat computer crime, especially child pornography, and, to this end, set up a special, sufficiently staffed and equipped, police unit comprising members trained in children's rights and new technologies.
7. The Assembly invites member states to shake out of its indifference a society which needs to be called on as a whole to take action against this scourge, and also to:
i. endorse and draw attention to ordinary people's duty to report sexual crimes and abuses against children;
ii. make emergency hot lines available free of charge;
iii. and provide assistance, especially of a financial nature, to those non-governmental organisations which are already active to help them to provide their information and prevention service to children and their parents, particularly in respect of the use of new technologies such as the Internet.
8. The Assembly calls on states to set up national "observatories" of sexual crimes and abuses against children, with responsibility for, inter alia, developing and improving data compilation and initiating research, so as to ascertain, among other things, the numbers and origins of child victims and the causes of this scourge, in order to prepare appropriate responses, and also so as to follow up victims' cases and find suitable ways of preventing further offences.
9. The Assembly also draws attention to its repeated invitation to member states to appoint, as a matter of necessity, at every national level, an official to defend children’s rights (ombudsman or children’s rights commissioner).
10. Finally, the Assembly calls on members and future members of the European Union to take the opportunity offered by the «European Convention» set up to revise the EU institutions to propose ways of remedying the deficiencies in, and advancing the cause of, children’s rights.
II. Explanatory memorandum
1. The Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee has been asked to report on two motions, a motion for a order on the establishment of an ad hoc committee on crimes connected to paedophilia, doc. 8865, dated 9 October 2000, and a motion for a resolution on the protection of minors against Internet child pornography, doc. 9093, dated 7 May 2001). Mr Provera (Italy, LDR) has been appointed rapporteur.
2. Crime against children is not a new subject for the Assembly: both the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee have given attention to this issue, especially at the time of the Dutroux case which shocked Belgium and the rest of Europe in 1996 (and which has apparently not been decided yet!). Another example is Resolution 1099 (1996) on the sexual exploitation of children, adopted on the initiative of the Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.
3. The Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee instigated Recommendation 1371 (1998) on abuse and neglect of children, a broader text than the previous one, which was directed against paedophilia, pornography, child prostitution, incest and ill-treatment in the family, discriminatory practices against, and mutilation of girls, and so on.
4. These texts can be consulted on the Parliamentary Assembly website http://assembly.coe.int, at 05, under “Documents”, “Adopted texts”.
The active involvement of the international community
5. Especially since 1996, the international community has been actively combating this scourge. All the international organisations have broached and dealt with one aspect or another of sexual exploitation.
6. Not all are mentioned below, but the list of examples is significant. The ILO tackles the subject of sexual exploitation in its latest convention (Convention No 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour). The UN has adopted an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which came into force in January 2001, and the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children, held in New York in May 2002, did not neglect this difficult issue.
7. The first World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, was held by UNICEF in Stockholm in 1996. The second World Congress was held in Yokohama in December 2001 (cf. the organisation’s website: www.unicef.org).
8. As a regional contribution to the Yokohama Congress, representatives from 42 European countries and central Asian states, meeting in Budapest on 20-21 November 2001 under the aegis of the Council of Europe and UNICEF, agreed a commitment and action plan. The aim from the outset was to reject any form of exploitation of children, with a commitment to “adopting and promoting the attitude of “zero tolerance” for all forms of violence and exploitation of children”. The action plan proposes “criminalising all forms of sexual exploitation of children under 18”. (website: http://www.coe.int/T/F/Communication_and Research/Press/Them…/e_BilanBudapest.as)
9. Under the Action Plan, each state is urged to develop a national programme to combat child sexual exploitation and set up a single national body responsible for co-ordinating every sector involved – social services, child support agencies, education, health services, police, the courts. Secondly, the Council of Europe should monitor “the situation in the region in order to ensure effective implementation of plans of action at national, sub-regional and regional levels in the field of protection of children against sexual exploitation” They also agreed to follow-up Recommendation (2001) 16 on the protection of children against sexual exploitation, adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (website: http://www.coe.int/T/E/Committee of Ministers/Home) on 31 October 2001.
10. This recommendation, addressed to member states, urges them to pass appropriate legislation, of which it gives details. To ensure follow-up, a committee of experts of which European Union, UNICEF and Interpol representatives are also members has been set up to provide, inter alia, practical technical assistance to states with drawing up the most suitable measures.
11. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has also finalised the Convention on Cyber crime (ETS No 185, see http://conventions.coe.int), which was opened for signature on 23 November 2001.
12. In 1999 UNESCO drew up an action plan on sexual abuse of children, child pornography and paedophilia on the Internet. And, among other developments, the European Union has prepared a Safer Internet Action Plan (covering the period 1999-2002), with a budget of € 25 million.
13. Thus a consensus is emerging in the international community about the various measures needed if preventive action is to be effective. The task of ensuring that these are actually implemented remains. The different measures advocated, especially the introduction of appropriate legislation, are still a long way from universal adoption and application.
14. The specialised NGOs have also joined the battle. They are the most frequent instigators of preventive action. Most of the NGOs which have to deal with the situation on the ground take radical positions and consider that the measures advocated are still not enough. Some reject the term paedophilia and instead refer to crimes against children, fostered by pornography and child prostitution. They call for crimes against children to be treated as crimes against humanity, to which no statutory limitation applies.
An unacceptable reality
15. As a result of this international proliferation of ideas, some awareness has been raised, and progress certainly has been made in many of our states. But in the fight against sex tourism, for instance, only about twenty member states have so far passed legislation encompassing an extraterritoriality provision, under which it is possible to prosecute persons who commit crimes against children outside national territory.
16. And it has to be said that, in recent years, the trafficking and prostitution of both boys and girls have started to flourish in our European states. Quoting figures serves no purpose. We can each see for ourselves. The children come from Eastern Europe, from Africa, from China…. Most European countries now have children living on their streets. Romanian youngsters hit the headlines in Paris when they vandalised parking meters, and the same children were subsequently found working as prostitutes. And unaccompanied minor refugees are arriving every day, especially in Italy.
17. Probably because there is now some awareness of the problem and of the damage it causes to children, and thanks, inter alia, to the adoption of legislation enabling perpetrators of abuse to be prosecuted after the traditional time limits, large numbers of cases of paedophilia are coming to light: offences are being reported, abusers are at last being convicted, and victims are receiving compensation.
18. The press has for several months been reporting on dozens, or even hundreds, of cases worldwide in which teachers and officials in charge of institutions, including some priests, have sexually abused children for whom they were responsible, with cases occurring in Canada, the United States, Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, etc. It seems that few countries have been spared.
19. Society has become increasingly suspicious, and families do not know where to turn, no longer daring to entrust their children to people or bodies (such as parish associations, children’s holiday centres, and so on) previously trusted and traditionally providing relief from the family’s burden. The fabric of society has been weakened.
The threat from the Internet
20. Another acute danger to children stems from child pornography on the Internet. The Internet has, and always will have, growing numbers of users, the 1993 estimate of 90 000 having grown to 407 million by 2000. Child users of the Internet are now reported to number 28 million, the estimate for 2005 being 77 million (figures estimated by ECPAT, an NGO network working for the elimination of child prostitution, child pornography and trafficking of children for sexual purposes).
21. Being anonymous and easy to use, the Internet is a dangerous instrument, and “chat” sites, in particular, are high-risk places for youngsters.
22. The Internet also attracts new users who, while they are not classic child abuse perverts, are just as dangerous, for pornography does seem to lead to sexual aggression. Consumers’ demands are ever increasing, and the pictures are more and more violent. Together with the US, Russia is one of the leading producers of child pornography.
23. In most European states, Internet-based child pornography networks are discovered regularly. Just recently, in July 2002, after twelve months’ of efforts by Interpol and Europol, among others, an international Internet-based child pornography network was dismantled which had extended to numerous European and non-European countries. Large amounts of material were seized, including hundreds of videotapes featuring hundreds of children, some of whom have been able to be identified.
24. There no longer seems to be any need to prove that international networks exist. The task that remains is that of dismantling them. This requires political will and co-ordinated action by such agencies as the police and the courts.
25. The best is sometimes the enemy of the good in our countries, and the legitimate concern to protect human rights shown in our legislation may hinder the activity of those who work to combat the sexual exploitation of children, to the detriment of victims’ rights. Legislation which allows a more proactive preventive policy is surely necessary, as is a better balance in the honouring of the rights of both suspects and victims.
26. Nor is the child’s word always taken as it ought to be. Dozens of mothers recently took refuge in Switzerland with their children, having fled from countries such as Belgium, France and Spain, accusing those countries’ courts of ignoring what their children had said and awarding right of access or custody to fathers who had sexually abused them.
27. It is a striking fact that member states’ police forces frequently have difficulty, in Internet-based child pornography cases, in tracing and identifying victims from their photographs. Very rarely do the parents of missing children recognise them on the Internet.
28. In an attempt to find a solution, a questionnaire was sent to member states, so as to examine one possibility in greater depth: this covered the various institutions in our states which cater for orphans, children with disabilities, children placed in care for other reasons, and so on.
29. Thanks go to the twenty countries which were kind enough to submit replies. Clearly, no reliable conclusions may be drawn from the small number of replies.
30. They nevertheless confirm that registration of the child residents of institutions is not automatic in every state. Confirmation was given that some children do disappear, but these are mostly young asylum-seekers on their own. If statistics do exist about the victims of crimes against minors and about the perpetrators, they are very inadequate.
31. Finally, the human and material resources devoted to combating sexual exploitation, and especially Internet-based child pornography and paedophilia, are either non-existent or in the very earliest stages of development. There are, of course, noteworthy exceptions, in Italy, in Belgium and in the United Kingdom. The UK has bolstered its Internet police unit, adding experts in photographic recognition.
32. Interpol is in the process of creating a major photographic database covering victims and abusers.
33. According to ECPAT, the NGO network, most of the extensive pornographic material on the Internet, in particular, is several years old, any recent photos being produced in south countries and in particular in southern Asia. Greece says in its reply to the questionnaire that some still unidentified children who appeared on seized pornographic material were said to be from Asian countries. In another recent case in Greece, seized photos showed children from Eastern Europe. Increasingly, many of the photos of children on the Internet are “virtual” ones.
34. It seems futile at this stage to create new instruments. Council of Europe member states have yet to subscribe to those which exist, and especially to apply these. There is indeed a need to move from words to deeds and clearly to affirm a determination resolutely to reject the sexual exploitation of children in any form.
35. All Council of Europe member states are therefore invited to declare the combating of this kind of sexual exploitation to be a national objective and, at the very least, to bring their legislation into line with the principles set out in Recommendation (2001) 16.
36. There are many aspects to such sexual exploitation, and combating any one is as important as combating any other; if, however, priorities have to be decided, there is no disputing the fact that precedence must be given to the eradication of the dangers to children posed by the Internet, in the light of its present and future impact. The means of combating computer crime should be acquired, and a special, sufficiently staffed and equipped, police unit comprising members trained in children's rights and new technologies should be set up at every national level.
37. There can be no justification, no excuse, for the unacceptable, so a zero tolerance approach must be taken to crimes against children, meaning that a proactive policy must be adopted which leaves no offence or attempted offence unpunished, which regards the rights of child victims as more important than those of suspects or criminals, and which makes it possible to find and identify victims and to arrest criminals, without giving them the slightest possibility, especially on procedural or geographical grounds, of eluding human justice. The penalties must be severe enough to fit the crimes, and the policy pursued must encompass every means of preventing further offences.
38. Ordinary people’s duty to report offences must be endorsed and have attention drawn to it. People need to be stirred out of their indifference. Society as a whole must be called upon to take action against this scourge. Emergency hot lines must be made available everywhere, and the NGOs which are already active must be helped to provide their information, reporting and prevention service to children and their parents.
39. Concern to give victims a future must predominate, meaning that the children involved must be identified and actively sought with a view to rehabilitation, and that assistance must be given to the victims, who must leave behind their feelings of guilt and receive fair compensation for the damage done to them.
40. Not only must states appoint, as a matter of necessity, a national official (ombudsman or commissioner) to whom children may turn, but they ought also to set up an “observatory” of sexual crimes and abuses against children, so as to develop and improve both data compilation and research. In addition, states should grasp the political opportunity of the current European Convention, tasked with proposing reforms of the European Union institutions, to advance the cause of children.
Reporting committee: Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee
Draft resolution unanimously adopted on 2 September 2002.
Members of the committee: Mrs Ragnarsdóttir (Chairman), Mr Hegyi, Mrs Gatterer, Mr Christodoulides (Vice-Chairmen), MM. Alís Font, Arnau, Mrs Belohorská, Mr Berzinš, Mrs Biga-Friganović, Mrs Björnemalm, Mrs Bolognesi, MM. Brînzan, Brunhart, Cerrahoğlu, Cox, Dees, Dhaille, Dos Santos, Evin, Floros, Flynn, Ms Gamzatova, MM. Giertych, Glesener, Goldberg, Gönül, Gregory, Gusenbauer, Güstafsson, Haack, Herrera, Hladiy, Hřie, Hörster, Ms Jäger, Mrs Jirousová, Mr Klympush, Baroness Knight (alternate: Mr Hancock), MM. Kontogiannopoulos, Lomakin-Rumiantsev, Ms Lotz, Ms Luhtanen, MM. Makhachev, Małachowski, Manukyan, Mrs Markovska, MM. Marty (alternate: Mr Schmied), Mattei, Mrs Milotinova, MM. Mladenov, Monfils (alternate: Mr Timmermans), Ms Nowiak (alternate: Mr Wikinski), MM. Olekas, Ouzký, Padilla, Podobnik, Popa, Poty, Provera, Pysarenko, Rigoni (alternate: Mr Piscitello), Rizzi (alternate: Mr Tirelli), Mrs Roseira, MM. Santos, Seyidov, Mrs Shakhtakhtinskaya, MM. Slutsky, Surján, Telek, Ms Tevdoradze, MM. Truu, Tudor, Turjačanin, Vella, Mrs Vermot-Mangold, MM. Vesselbo, Vis, Vos, Mrs Zafferani, Mr Zidu.
NB: The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in italics.
Secretaries to the committee: Mr. Newman, Ms Meunier and Ms Karanjac