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Society

Germany slow to enact EU rule outlawing child porn

People in Germany who buy pictures of naked children are, largely, exempt from punishment because the government has not implemented EU guidelines on the possession of such material. That's about to change.

Images, films and texts about sexual acts involving children or in the presence of children are illegal in Germany and distribution or possession of them is punishable by up to five years in prison.

But people who possess or buy pictures of naked children without evidence of a sexual act stand a good chance of avoiding prosecution. Determining whether photos are illegal depends on whether the children are shown in sexual or provocative poses.

It's a gray area as there is no clear definition of what exactly makes a pose provocative. But the recent child pornography scandal surrounding Social Democratic lawmaker Sebastian Edathy has set a discussion in motion in Germany.

Between 2005 and 2010, Edathy allegedly purchased videos and photos of naked children and youths "romping and playing, seated and presenting themselves in natural poses" from a Canadian firm. The photos showed the children's genitalia, according to the prosecutor's office in Hannover. In early February 2014, police raided the lawmaker's home. Edathy has since resigned from parliament citing health concerns.

Appeal for tougher laws

Germany's Child Protection Agency and other groups has called for tougher laws that would outlaw the sale of pictures of naked children. Such photos are by no means harmless snapshots taken in a family environment, according to Matthias Katsch of Square Table, an organization that represents victims of sexual abuse at German Jesuit schools.

Heiko Maas

Justice Minister Maas pledged a tougher law to protect children

"A total ban on photos of naked children is overdue," he said. "Most of the material is produced in the framework of child pornography shootings - for sale and distribution."

It's high time this child abuse is stopped, Katsch said. "In Germany, we've been so busy pondering the rights of the perpetrators that we've forgotten the victims."

EU guideline waiting to be implemented

Responsibility has been placed firmly at the doorstep of the Justice Ministry. In 2011, the EU adopted a guideline on the fight against child abuse that included prohibiting photos of naked children. Germany was to have implemented the directive by 2013 - but so far, nothing has happened.

The ministry initially remained silent, but meanwhile, new Justice Minister Heiko Maas pledged a bill by Easter that would outlaw the "commercial trade" of photos of naked children. Such a measure would make the purchase and sale of such material illegal. Reaction to the minister's suggestion has been mixed: some experts welcome the proposal, others criticize its details.

Sebastian Edathy

Edathy's name came up in an interantional investigation into pornography

Should the bill be adopted in its present form, art dealers could no longer sell sculptures or paintings that show naked children or cherubs. And what happens if the material is not sold, but distributed free of cost? That eventuality is not covered by the law. In addition, there's the danger that a new law could turn nudity and nude photos into a problem in a country that in general takes a relatively relaxed view of nakedness.

Protecting image rights

Many families spend their vacations on the beach, and let their young children run around naked. Nude bathing has a long tradition and many fans in Germany. Snapshots of nude youngsters on the beach are quite common, and banning such photos would criminalize many people.

Matthias Katsch called for a different approach. Legislation already exists in Germany that gives people the right to decide how images of them are used. If these rights were extended to photos of nude children, the owners of the photos could be prosecuted since children cannot legally give consent and it would run against public policy, Katsch said, for parents to give consent on their children's behalf.

Whatever German lawmakers decide on in the end, it won't make a difference to Sebastian Edathy as the law would not be retroactively applicable.

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