Doc. 9575 revised (English only)

25 September 2002

Sexual exploitation of children: zero tolerance

Opinion

Committee on Culture, Science and Education

Rapporteur: Baroness Hooper, United Kingdom, European Democratic Group

The Committee on Culture, Science and Education was originally asked to produce an opinion to a motion on the establishment of an ad hoc committee on crimes connected to paedophilia. The reference was later merged by the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee with another one, on the protection of minors against child pornography.

This is probably why the definition of sexual exploitation of children in the present report is rather loose. It is not clear whether it only covers sexual abuse of children for commercial purposes or whether it refers to all crimes connected to paedophilia.

On whatever definition, the Committee on Culture, Science and Education fully agrees with the Rapporteur that the sexual exploitation of children should not be tolerated.

At the same time it is extremely important to take a balanced approach and avoid hysteria.

Education is an essential element in combating paedophilia. It is important to develop information and training of teachers, parents and children about such crimes and to teach children a realistic appreciation of the risks of total independence. The report rightly calls for greater assistance to NGOs which provide information and prevention services to children and parents, but it is mainly at school that such information and prevention can and should take place.

The teaching community is gradually taking on this task. The Education International Declaration on Professional Ethics states as a commitment to students that educational personnel shall “take all possible steps to safeguard students from sexual abuse”.

In the light of recent events in the US and UK, it has become topical to concentrate on the problem of sexual abuse of children by persons in position of trust, such as parents, caregivers, teachers, police or clergy. There are many such cases worldwide.

At the same time, overreacting could put schools in a very delicate position as the accusation of paedophilia can become an all too easy means of recrimination against unpopular teachers by imaginative and vindictive pupils. It is an accusation that is very difficult for a teacher to combat and clear his/her name.

The best response seems to be a balanced combination of appropriate legislation and common sense, to avoid the sort of delays in recruiting teachers that occurred in the UK this summer and led to justified remarks that children were safer in school than on the streets. Observers also warned against total reliance on computer systems for clearance.

Another major concern of the Committee on Culture, Science and Education is the role of the media and the Internet in crimes connected to paedophilia. Child pornography on the Internet represents sexual abuse and is an acute danger to children. Such pornography can also encourage further abuse. But the report fails to stress that the Internet and the media in general can also be a tool for information and prevention.

It is also worth underlining the benefits of cooperation between the public authorities and the Internet and media professionals at national and international level, in order to develop tools for the protection of children and to fight against sexual abuse.

The sensational media can pose however a different kind of threat. Sensationalism might prejudice the jury and so prevent a person accused of a crime connected to paedophilia of being brought to trial. Also there is a risk of innocent people suffering.

Crimes connected to paedophilia, appalling as they can be, have to be dealt with by courts, not by mob rule against people identified as “paedophiles” by word of mouth, or the sensational press. Overreacting can be as harmful as not paying enough attention.

In conclusion, the Committee on Culture, Science and Education would wish to make the following amendments to the draft resolution:

Amendment 1: In paragraph 2, delete the last sentence and replace it by a new paragraph to read as follows: “Child pornography in itself represents sexual abuse of children and can encourage further abuse”;

Amendment 2: Before paragraph 3, add a new paragraph to read as follows:

“The problem of sexual abuse of children is aggravated when the Internet is used as a medium, on account of the increasing number of users, its anonymity and its ease of use, and the contacts it permits”.

Amendment 3: In paragraph 4, second indent, add “potential” before “dangers posed to children by the Internet”;

Amendment 4: Add after paragraph 5 a new paragraph to read as follows:

“The Assembly asks member states to develop information and preventive training at school about the sexual exploitation of children”;

Amendment 5: Add before paragraph 6 a new paragraph to read as follows:

“The Assembly urges member states, through the appropriate bodies, to tackle the problem of sexual abuse by persons in position of trust, such as parents, caregivers, teachers, police or clergy. Attention should also be paid to the problem of defamation that may arise from vindictive accusations or press hysteria”;

Amendment 6: At the end of paragraph 6 add a new phrase as follows:

“At the same time, cooperation with Internet professionals at national and international level should be improved, in order to develop tools for the protection of children against illicit and harmful content related to sexual exploitation”.

Amendment 7: Introduce a new paragraph after paragraph 7 as follows:

“The Assembly asks member states to ensure that persons accused of child abuse are not prevented from being brought to trial (for example by contravention of sub judice rules) because of media coverage”.

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Reporting committee: Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Committee for opinion: Committee on Culture, Science and Education

Reference to committee: Doc. 8865 and Reference No. 2589 of 14 March 2001 and Doc. 9093 and Reference No. 2618 of 22 May 2002-09-25

Opinion approved by the committee on 25 September 2002

Secretariat of the committee: Mr Grayson, Mr Ary, Mrs Theophilova–Permaul, Mr Torcatoriu