Despite the complexities of policing internet child pornography, the national Department of Home Affairs has taken a stand to protect minors from exposure to inappropriate material. This comes in the form of a recently launched website that will enable the public to anonymously report on other sites that publish sexual images of minors.
Said to be the first of its kind on the continent, the website (www.fpbprochild.org.za) is an initiative of the Film and Publication Board (FPB), an organisation established by parliament to regulate the distribution of media and to protecting children from exposure to inappropriate material.
Once a report is submitted via the website the FPB team is alerted to it. The case is assessed by an internet content analyst who then forwards it to law enforcement agencies for further investigation.
While the website is dependent on adults reporting the occurrence of child pornography, it is child users of the internet whom the site aims to protect.
“There is no doubt that the internet is an abundantly useful tool, but it also has its dark side,” says Iyaver Chetty, acting CEO of the FPB. “The increase in child pornography globally is astounding and while we are not attempting to control the internet, what we are doing is increasing our vigilance of what our children are exposed to on the internet. Our silence is a betrayal of our children so the more we do to prevent children from being exposed either as victims or viewers, the better it is for our society.”
Iyaver says more than 2.5-billion emails containing pornographic material of some kind are distributed each day. The trade rakes in more than $24-billion (R173-billion) every year and is the fastest growing business on the internet. It is estimated that more than one million child pornography images exist online.
According to World Internet Stats, there are 1.5-billion internet users in the world. While this is the preferred medium for the distribution of pornographic material, increased availability of internet-enabled cellular phones and phones that can take and transfer images has also contributed to a rise in the creation and distribution of child pornography.
A 2008 FPB report on internet usage and the exposure of pornography to learners in South African schools compiled by the FPB indicated that 67% of those surveyed had seen a pornographic film. About 84% of boys compared to 54% of girls have watched at least one pornographic film.
When it came to the internet, 64% indicated they had been exposed to pornographic images online. Of that amount, 70% said they came across such material accidentally. For those who had cellular phones, 81% reported knowledge of pornographic images on their friends’ phones.
Under South African Law, the failure to report knowledge or suspicion of the commission of any child pornography is a criminal offence. It is also an offence to expose children to pornography, as well as to fail to take reasonable steps to ensure that children do not have access to potentially harmful material.
The creation, production, distribution, possession, advocacy, advertising or promotion of child pornography a criminal offence and the maximum prison sentence for any person convicted of any child pornography offence is 10 years. While this may be seen as a light sentence, South Africa joins only four other countries in the world - Australia, Belgium, France and the US - in having laws comprehensive enough to prosecute this crime.
Although the country’s laws relating to possessing and creating child pornography are more sophisticated than most, Iyaver says the lack of resources and inferior knowledge of the impact of the crime by investigators, prosecutors and the judiciary hampers convictions.
Iyaver says there is enough evidence to prove that a fair percentage of those who watch child pornography are likely to sexually abuse children. One such case that made headlines worldwide was the murder of Holly Jones in Toronto, US. The 10-year-old girl was kidnapped, raped and dismembered by Michael Brier who, during his trial, admitted that he watched child porn on the internet before carrying out the crime.
In South Africa, few cases have been prosecuted, but that’s not to say that there is a lower prevalence or less creation of child pornography. “Just because we don’t have many convictions, it does not mean that South Africans are less inclined towards child pornography. Because the internet is so widely accessible, if there are 1 000 websites containing child pornography, it’s a global figure and a global problem and not something confined to one demographic.”