‘Robust steps’ to protect children online

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has insisted her department and agencies are taking “robust measures” to protect children using the internet.

She cited proposed offences, including using online technology to sexually exploit a child and causing a child to participate in abuse imagery.

Ms Fitzgerald has repeatedly indicated she plans to publish full legislation — which covers sexual offences generally — “later this year”. It is not yet clear when the new crimes will actually be enacted.

It follows the publication of a report by European child exploitation experts which documented trends online, including the emergence of a profit-driven retail market in the sale and purchase of explicit imagery involving children.

The report said the imagery — both photographs and videos — were either extorted from children online or taken from material voluntarily uploaded by minors onto social network sites.

Experts from across Europe, including Ireland, said the emergence of a profit motive to child exploitation, in addition to a sexual motive, was a new development in an increasingly sophisticated and difficult to detect crime.

The report was conducted by the European Financial Coalition against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Online and published by Europol, the EU police agency.

Children’s rights activist Senator Jillian van Turnhout said the report was “a wake-up call” for legislators, parents, and schools. Mary Flaherty of CARI, a therapy service for children affected by sexual abuse, said the emergence of the profit motive — both through extortion and the online market — marked a “very grave” escalation of the risks.

Responding to the report, the Department of Justice said: “The department and its agencies are pursuing a broad response to protecting the safety of children on the internet. A number of robust measures, including legislative, are in place to protect and enhance the safety of children online. The minister is bringing forward new legislation in this area to further protect children from online sexual exploitation.”

The General Scheme of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill will include simulated sexual activity in the definition of child pornography.

A spokeswoman said existing child pornography/grooming offences will be strengthened with new offences relating to organising child pornography and causing a child to participate in a pornographic performance.

“There will also be two new offences of using information and communication technology to facilitate the sexual exploitation of a child,” she said.


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