Baroness Seccombe: moved Amendment No. 109:
Before Clause 37, insert the following new clauses:
in the Protection of Children Act 1978, for the word "16" there shall be substituted the word "18".
in the Protection of Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, for the word "sixteen" there shall be substituted the word "eighteen".
Baroness Seccombe: This amendment concerns the age of a child in proceedings relating to indecent photographs of children. The rise of public concern about the sexual exploitation of children has been on the increase over the past few years.
One of the ways in which children are exploited is through being sexually abused. The record of such abuse may be captured on film, video or computers to be watched repeatedly and distributed around the world. Like the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I
too remember the exhibition shown just off Westminster Hall. I had to leave before I completed my tour of the exhibition because I found some of the material so disturbing that it still haunts me.
Such early experience of sexual activity often leaves deep emotional scars on a child which can damage future relationships. Furthermore, the child must live with the permanent knowledge that pictures of the abuse are still circulating.
There would be few who would defend child pornography, but disagreements arise over what we mean when we refer to a "child" for the purposes of legislation as well as at what age children should slip out of the net of protection offered to
them by the law. Currently, the Protection of Children Act 1978, the law that makes it an offence to produce or distribute an indecent photograph of a child, defines a child as someone under the age of 16. This same definition is automatically
applied to the legislation that makes possession of child pornography an offence; namely, Section 160 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The same definition also applies in Northern Ireland. Yet for the purposes of the Bill, Clause 25 states that:
an individual commits an offence against a child if ... he commits any offence
listed in Schedule 4. Clause 37 of the Bill defines a child as,
a person under the age of 18.
The offence of producing and distributing child pornography is already included in Schedule 4 and Amendment No. 82 would add possession of child pornography to the list of offences. This amendment proposes that the same definition of a child should
be applied to the offences related to child pornography.
The Government have recognised that children remain vulnerable and in need of protection up to the age of 18. In the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, children up to the age of 18 are protected from those in a position to abuse their trust. Children
up to 18 years old should be protected from those who wish to take indecent photographs of them. This protection would be in line with that conferred by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines a child as someone under
the age of 18. Article 34 of the convention refers in particular to child pornography and says that,
State parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse ,
the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials .
In part because of the increase in child pornography on the Internet earlier this year, the United Nations issued a new optional protocol to the children's convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. These offences
are described as of a "grave nature" and governments are urged to take firm action to protect children. Can the Minister tell the Committee what is the Government's view of the new protocol and whether they will sign it?
Voting in favour of this amendment would bring our legislation into line with Article 34 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, increase protection for teenagers and signal our continuing commitment to taking firm action against
I hope that the Minister will have sympathy with this amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Monson: The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, will know that very often I support her and her noble friend Lady Blatch on Home Office matters, but I am afraid that I cannot do so on this occasion.
For decades, if not centuries, 16 and 17 year-olds have been deemed legally capable of consenting to most forms of sexual activity. There is one particular form of sexual practice which is not only capable of being psychologically damaging but is
also undoubtedly physically dangerous which is the exception to this rule, and where the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is indeed germane. We may return to this point before long.
First, taking indecent photographs with the consent of the subject--conceivably the enthusiastic consent of the subject--hardly comes into that category. The amendment does not confine itself to photographs taken for commercial reasons. It could
catch two 17 year-olds who took photographs of their activities by remote control for their own amusement.
Secondly, paedophiles--against whom most of these amendments are aimed--are not interested in boys and girls as old as 16 or 17. Finally, there is a practical objection, given that few people carry their passports around with them at all times.
Whereas it is usually possible to distinguish between a 14 year-old and a 16 year-old, it can be far more difficult to distinguish between a 16 year-old and an 18 year-old. Many people of 16 or 17 look two, three or even four years older than their
For all those reasons, I believe that the amendment, although well intended, is misconceived.