Child pornography flourishes in a world with no borders

The figures are devastating. At any one time on the Internet it is estimated there are around three quarters of a million predators searching for sites featuring child pornography. The UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Najat Maalla M’jid in a report to the latest session of the Human Rights Council says, “there is more and more child pornography on the Internet, becoming what is today a very profitable business, with a worldwide market value estimated at billions of dollars.”

Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Ms Najat M'jid Maala addresses  the Human Rights Council  - © UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerreStatistics for cyber child pornography are difficult to find but in her report M’jid points to estimates that over a three year period between 2001 and 2004 the number of sites carrying child pornography nearly doubled to around 480,000. Estimates of the number of children who are victims vary hugely, from ten thousand to 100,000. Pornographic images of children, from babies through to teenagers are posted on the web. Figures cited in the report estimate nearly 20 percent of individuals possessing child pornography had images of babies and children aged under 3 and more than 80 percent had images of children aged between 6 and 12.

The report says most producers of pornographic images of children are known to the victims, in fact more than a third are family members and more than a third of those found guilty of possessing child pornography live with children. More than half of those in possession of child pornography have access to children at home, at work or in their social environment. 

The Special Rapporteur draws attention to the life-long consequences of child pornography for the victims themselves. The internet images which will never disappear “compound the consequences of the child abuse, affecting the victims’ recovery and the delivery of services available to them”, she says. 

M’jid warns that the increasingly interactive nature of the internet whilst having obvious advantages, also “bring new risks for children and youth”. The report cites the convergence of mobile phones and the Internet, particularly chat rooms, as offering children and young people new forms of communication and making them more trusting and ultimately more vulnerable.

The response from the community, government and law enforcement agencies to the growth in child pornography sites on the web, although significant is nonetheless inadequate, according to M’jid. She acknowledges the strategies already in place; the hotlines, education programmes, voluntary codes of conduct in the private sector and cooperation internationally between law enforcement agencies, but she says further progress must be made.

To this end, the Special Rapporteur has recommended that child pornography, “first and foremost, be declared a crime”. Additionally, she has recommended ratification by States of the regional and international instruments dealing with child pornography, and adoption of domestic legislation that guarantees respect for children’s rights and protects them from the crime of sexual exploitation. Extra-territorial jurisdiction should also be established, with a view to guaranteeing effective prosecution of such crimes and the imposition of appropriate penalties. For the victims, high priority should be given to their identification, protection and care. Improved prevention measures should be developed at all levels. Child participation should be promoted, there should be broader and more effective responsibility on the part of the private sector and there must be greater international and inter-sectoral co operation.

It should not be forgotten, M’jid says, that to the great advantage of sexual predators, the Internet has no borders.

26 November 2009