Tough on child porn

ADULTS who engage in sexual exploitation of minors, including the possession of child pornography, could face harsher prison terms, ranging from 15 to 20 years, if proposed changes to the Cybercrimes Act, 2015 are approved by legislators.

The joint select committee now reviewing the Act, which seeks to make it a criminal offence for an individual whose intention is to use an electronic device to commit a crime, had no objection with this recommendation put forward by the Ministry of Education and Youth in its submission.

Chief technical director in the Ministry of Science, Energy, and Technology Wahkeen Murray, in her report to the committee during its meeting in Parliament on Thursday, said the ministry recommended that under the Cybercrimes Act, Section 4 should be adjusted so that the penalties for an adult, where the victim is a child, are in accordance with the sanctions in the Child Pornography (Prevention) Act.

She noted that this legislation speaks generally to a fine because all the offences in that legislation are tryable in the circuit court, so there is broadly a fine that can be applied as determined by the court and terms of imprisonment ranging from eight to 20 years.

“What we certainly noticed from our review of the legislation is that the majority of the offences, in terms of imprisonment, range from 15 to 20 [years], and the offence which attracts a possible eight-year sentence is with respect to possession of child pornography,” she said.

In its submission the education ministry noted that Section 4 of the Cybercrimes Act states that, “A person commits an offence if that person accesses any programme or data held in a computer with the intent to (a) commit any offence punishable by imprisonment for a term that exceeds one year; or (b) facilitate the commission of an offence referred to in paragraph (a), whether by himself or by any other person. A person may commit an offence under subsection (1) even if the facts are such that the commission of the offence referred to in subsection (1)(a) is impossible.”

“Section 4 of the Cybercrimes Act in its current form makes it possible for someone to be punished for possessing an indecent picture of a child vis-à-vis child pornography because it is an offence punishable by imprisonment for a term that exceeds one year. Section 4 can be adjusted, however, to include a provision that offences relating to children will attract harsher penalties, with said penalties clearly outlined,” the document read.

The ministry suggested that, conversely, there could be a schedule of offences that will attract a harsher penalty which would include sections 4 and 5 of the Child Pornography Act with a penalty of up to 20 years.

“Two approaches can be taken here, since it is not currently provided by local laws. The Sexual Offences Act can be amended or it can be added to the Cybercrimes Act,” the submission stated.

A further recommendation was that the committee give consideration to the legislative provisions contained in Ghana’s Cybersecurity Act as well as Zambia’s Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Legislation, which both address offences relating to children.

In the meantime, the ministry said that activities such as committing fraud, trafficking, child pornography and intellectual property, stealing identities, or violating privacy and ruining a country’s financial health are some of the dangers that exist in today’s world.

The ministry hinted that greater protection of children is needed, given the introduction and rapid increase of social media platforms, which make it challenging for adults to monitor and ensure that a child is not drawn into the cyber world where there is a wealth of information that impacts negatively on children.

“Most alarming is the threat of online sexual exploitation and abuse. It has never been easier for child sex offenders to contact their potential victims, share imagery, and encourage others to commit offences. Children may be victimised through the production, distribution, and consumption of sexual abuse material or they may be groomed for sexual exploitation, with abusers attempting to meet them in person or extort them for explicit content,” the submission read.

It noted that in the digital world, any person from any location can create and store sexually exploitative content; and sex offenders may even live-stream sexual abuse from the confines of their homes, directing on-demand abuse of children far away.

The ministry said that 80 per cent of children in 25 countries report feeling in danger of sexual abuse or exploitation online.

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