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Information Week

Study: Child Porn Isn't Illegal In Most Countries

A review of child pornography laws in 184 countries shows that more than half have no laws that address child pornography.

InformationWeek, U.S.A. By Thomas Claburn, April 6, 2006

At a press conference in Washington, D.C., the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children and other participants, including Microsoft , presented a study on Thursday revealing the woeful inadequacy of child pornography laws around the world.

ICMEC's global policy review of child pornography laws in 184 Interpol-member countries showed that more than half have no laws that specifically address child pornography, and in many others the existing laws are insufficient.

"It's hard to arrest and prosecute if you don't have the legal foundation on which to build," said Ernie Allen, ICMEC president and CEO.

The ICMEC study found that possession of child pornography isn't a crime in 138 countries. In 122 countries, there's no law dealing with the use of computers and the Internet as a means of child porn distribution.

"One of the greatest challenges we are confronted with is child safety, child protection, and child rights," said Baron Daniel Cardon de Lecture, chairman of ICMEC. Most of the countries in the world, he said, "have no meaningful system to adequately and effectively combat sexual exploitation of children."

Only five countries--Australia, Belgium, France, South Africa, and the United States--have laws deemed adequate by ICMEC to address the issue.

ICMEC acknowledges that the scope of the problem is difficult to determine, but statistics suggest that the production and consumption of child pornography is on the rise throughout the world. In 2005, the U.S.-based National Center for Missing & Exploited Children fielded 340,000 calls to its CyberTipline, up from more than 24,400 in 2001. This may reflect increased awareness of the tip line as well as an increase in the amount of child pornography.

The national center says 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys in the United States are sexually exploited before they reach adulthood. Less than 35% of those child sexual assaults are reported to authorities.

David Townsend, CEO of eFor, a computer forensics company, has served as an expert witness in several high-profile court cases. He believes the prevalence of child pornography is on the rise. It's the result, he says, of the anonymity that people believe they have online. "Twenty years ago, child predators used to go to circuses and playgrounds," he says. "Today they go online to places like Yahoo Groups and MySpace."

The production of child pornography is also becoming more professional. According to de Lecture, child pornography is thriving because it's profitable and relatively risk-free compared to other criminal enterprises like weapon or drug smuggling. "There is a huge consumer market for child pornography," he lamented. "Child pornography is enormously profitable, and there is, for the moment, no risk. There is risk for dealing with arms. There is risk in dealing with drugs. There is no risk in trading your children today in three-quarters of the world."

Microsoft is among those working to change that: It has sponsored seminars around the world that have helped train some 1,322 law enforcement officials from 89 countries to better investigate and prosecute child pornography.

In a phone interview following the press conference, Tim Cranton, director of Internet safety, legal and corporate affairs, for Microsoft, explained that despite interest from foreign law enforcement agencies in dealing with child pornography, police abroad often lack the technical knowledge necessary to deal with child porn on computers.

Though child pornography remains a growing problem, MEC's Allen says there's reason to be optimistic because other nations are responding. He says he hopes child pornography can be driven from the Internet by 2008.