It is rare that the European Parliament is unanimous. But when the Parliament voted on a legal proposal on child pornography it was exceptionally concordant. Over five hundred MEP’s voted in favour for a new directive. Two voted against. Europe in the Worlds-editorial office wanted to know why.
One of the two MEP’s who said no to the proposal was Christian Engström, who represents the Swedish Pirate Party in the Green Group in the European Parliament.
Why were you against the proposal?
“Let me first say that child pornography is an awful crime, there is no doubt about that. But the problem will not be cured with poor legislation”, Christian Engström says.
A call for a common definition
So why is this kind of EU-legislation needed, when many member states already have a strict regulation on child pornography? According to Zuzanna Warso, a lawyer at Europe of Human Rights-project sponsored by the EU, an EU-directive was necessary for several reasons. “In my view, the most important one is that child abuse has a cross-border dimension and the objective of protecting children cannot be sufficiently achieved by member states on their own. This is why EU-action was required. The directive will approximate the criminal law and procedures of member states, for example by introducing common definitions. This will enable exchange of data and experience, and facilitate international cooperation in fighting sexual exploitation of children”, she says.
One thing that Christian Engström is highly critical about, is that the directive does not only include people under the age of 18. Drawings are included. “I think it is repulsive to compare real child abuse pictures with pornographic manga sketches (Swedish lawsuit autumn 2011 edit.note)”, he says.
An other group of people that are supposed to be protected by the directive are the once that look like they are under the age of 18. This might become a problem in case of a lawsuit. “Who is able to say if a girl looks like she is under the age of 18 or if she looks like a 17 year old. Especially if the judge is in his 50’s, as I am, it is hard to know if a person is 16 or 26. This gives us legislation that is legally uncertain”
”I am proud that I vote against the directive. I have been speaking to quite many MEP’s who said that they could not vote against this proposal, because they cannot take the risk of being accused for defending child pornography in their home countries”, Christian Engström says.
How do you feel about the fact that many politicians did not dare to vote against?
“I think it is sad, because the legislation is technically extremely poor. One mistake is, if one reads the legislation, teenager under the age of 18 are not allowed to e-mail porn photos of each other. We all know what teenager are like, and today everyone has their own cameras. It is hard enough to be a teenager, they should not have to worry about being accused for being paedophiles and spending their youth in jail.”
Blocking is not the answer
The issue, in the legal proposal, that got the most attention in the media was that member states should start to block websites that are suspected for spreading child pornography.
“In the first proposal, from the Commission, the directive forced member states to block websites. I have been trying to say that blocking is not the right way to deal with this problem. First of all it is important to remember that child pornography it highly uncommon, it is forbidden everywhere and everyone thinks it is disgusting. But in case it pops up, real pictures of real child abuse, you should shut down the site and find the one behind it. The blocking is completely ineffective, it takes less than ten seconds to find a way around it.”
Christian Engström’s fingers dance on the black keyboard on his laptop. 7,5 seconds later he has typed in the name of a site that helps him to get to blocked sited. “Blocking is like the police would arrive at a crime scene where someone is being killed, and instead of stopping the crime, the police would put a blanket in front of the crime scene”, he says.
Zuzanna Warso is shares his opinion. She says that many experts have agreed on the fact that blocking is not the most effective measure; sometimes it might even be counter-productive. One of the keys to solve the problem is global cooperation.
“Creating universal definitions, that would cover all cases and give answers to all arising doubts, is almost impossible. And when the well being of children comes into questions this issue becomes even more delicate. I believe international bodies should focus on establishing other effective ways to fights child abuse, instead of acting as if they were dealing with this issue”, she says.