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
State parties undertake to protect the child from all forms
of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse,
the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances
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 child pornography.
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
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 true age.
For all those reasons, I believe that the amendment, although well intended, is