By Charani Patabendige –
As per the Child Right Convention (CRC) Article 01, a child is defined as “a person below the age of 18 years”. Children are known to be the future of the country. The stage of a child is a dependent stage, where the child should be fed, cared for, nurtured and loved. Unfortunately, not all children are able to witness the same amount of affection and care. Since society is vivid, children are coming from different social and economic backgrounds, they face challenges. One such challenge is child pornography where the child is abused. Child pornography on the internet is a cyber-crime which is also a transnational crime, therefore it directly affects national security. Therefore, it is high time that authorities should be vigilant to investigate, criminalize and prevent Child pornography.
There are various reasons why children are subject to abuse. Psychological stresses such as mental abuse and domestic abuse by parents. guardians, relatives and outsiders, drunkard members in the family and outsiders, immature and young parents, if the child is neglected, economic hardships and other family crises. One such abuse among many is child pornography. Prat S et al (2020) has stated that it is difficult to understand why a human will entertain and feel content by watching child pornography, since, it involves the realization of deviant fantasies with very specific characteristics concerning its content and use and therefore the legal action needed to deal with it. Megan (2021) has given three reasons why people watch child pornography. One reason is sexual gratification. Accordingly, it is an emotional escape or distraction from real life and Control.
Under sexual gratification, individuals who watch child pornography may be pedophiles. Another fact is emotional escape or distraction by users to distract from real life due to reasons such as they are feeling stressed, depressed, sexually frustrated and secluded. Another reason is, as a matter of “control”, “it is how they deal with their childhood sexual abuse. This is a way for them to get control over that part of themselves. Or, as a result of sexualization early in life, they understand sexuality and childhood to be related.” As per the United States Department of Justice, (2020), while some child sexual abuse images depict children in great distress and the sexual abuse is self-evident, other images may depict children that appear complacent.
The United States Department of Justice further states that it is common for producers of child pornography to groom victims, or cultivate a relationship with a child and gradually sexualize the contact over time. The grooming process fosters a false sense of trust and authority over a child to desensitize or break down a child´s resistance to sexual abuse. The consequences of child pornography are devastating. It affects the individual as well as society as a whole. It affects immediately as well as in the end. The victim child immediately feels feared, victimized as well as feel humiliated. It does not stop there, since child pornography is an online crime. It keeps circulating and therefore the child is re-victimized due to the digital footprints. Not only the child, the mother, the father, the sibling or any loved one of the child is equally saddened and disturbed. On the other hand, when looking at the person who commits the crime, (Bryson et al., 2018) have mentioned that the pornography of today—now ubiquitous and increasingly grotesque—is one of the influences warping the mentality of those who aspire to or who go on to engage in ever more grotesque public violence. Perhaps the twisting of the mind that results from pornography has an impact—an exceptionally dark, dangerous impact—on how radicalized individuals act out the concepts of their ideology.
As stated by Rajaratnam (2020)“The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) analyzed child pornography laws in 184 Interpol-member countries and found that more than half of them had no legislation directly addressing the problem of child pornography, and those countries where laws were in place were unsuccessful in dealing with it efficiently. As of now, only 45 countries in the world have comprehensive laws to combat child pornography”. When looking at the Sri Lankan context, Sri Lanka signed the Convention on Rights and formulated the Children’s Charter in 1992. Furthermore, the Optional Protocol on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was ratified on 8th September 2000 and the Optional Protocol on Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography was ratified on 22nd September 2002. As per Article 2 (C) of the Optional Protocol on Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, Child pornography means any representation, by whatever means, of a child engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a child for primarily sexual purposes.
However, no legislation in Sri Lanka has defined what child pornography is and this is a major lacuna. Even though the Obscene Publications Ordinance No. 4 of 1927, the Vagrants Ordinance No. 4 of 1841 and the Penal Code, also contain relevant laws on pornography in Sri Lanka, they do not provide an interpretation for such terms. Penal Code prohibits the sexual exploitation of children, (d) Sections 360A (Procuration) and 365 (Unnatural offence) of the Penal Code only protect children up to the age of 16 from being procured for prostitution and from being involved in same-sex activity, with or without consent. According to CRC/C/OPSC/LKA/1 on concluding observations on the report submitted by Sri Lanka under article 12 (1) of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography states that they are seriously concerned about: (a) The high number of children, including boys, who are sexually exploited, including by foreigners, while the scope of the sexual exploitation of children is unknown due to a lack of disaggregated data and a standard data-gathering system. Furthermore, the reported cases of the sale of boys by their families for sexual exploitation and cases of parents encouraging children, particularly girls, to enter the sex industry. Apart from the concluding observations, another prevailing issue is that Sri Lanka is in dire need to gather and analyze digital evidence. Child pornography and its illegality is not taken seriously by society.
As mentioned in the introduction, child pornography is a crime which is transnational. transnational crime. Even though the notion of national security does not come at a glance when discussing child pornography, it is in fact a threat, especially for human security. The reason is children are victimized, which showcase that they are violated and the perpetrator is violent. Such a criminal and pain inflicting , disturbed behaviour by any person affects individua’s as well as the society as a whole. The reason is the society should be free from violence and existing under law and order. In addition, child pornography is a crime on the cyber space, privacy of individuals is violated, people are defamed and humiliated. This also leads to health security as individuals who are victims as well as perpetrators are violated and inflict violence respectively. Another grave problem is children by pornography are commercially exploited, the money generated is dirty money where roots are impure.
Sri Lankan government is attempting to prevent and criminalize child pornography. National Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force under the Ministry of Justice, National Child Protection Authority and police unit are a few examples. Irrespective of these measures, persisting social, economic and legal barriers are hindering progress. Therefore, it is high time to define child pornography. It is important to prevent child labour, child sexual exploitation and commercial exploitation. Families should not encourage children to enter prostitution. To do that, Government must uplift social and economic standards. Even though it is not an overnight task, simple steps, in the end, will ease the prevention of pornography. In addition, it is imperative to raise awareness among children as well as the public about the crime of child pornography and the need to report it immediately. It is important to train officers and enhance their knowledge on gathering and analysing digital evidence. Media should be ethical when reporting news and sensitive to the matter at hand.
*Charani LCM Patabendige is a Research Assistant and an Acting Research Analyst at the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), the premier think tank on National Security established under the Ministry of Defence. The opinion expressed is her own and not necessarily reflective of the institute or the Ministry of Defence.