If This Is the Global Community, We Must Be on the Bad Side of Town: International Policing of Child Pornography on the Internet

By Stewart, Jennifer | Houston Journal of International Law, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

If This Is the Global Community, We Must Be on the Bad Side of Town: International Policing of Child Pornography on the Internet


Stewart, Jennifer, Houston Journal of International Law


I. INTRODUCTION

This Comment discusses child pornography as it exists on the Internet and the global battle by nations against its proliferation. It addresses the development and mechanics of how child pornography began appearing on the Internet. The remainder of the Comment discusses various nations' and international organizations' attempts to stop or at least control child pornography through legislative and law enforcement policies. Other alternative solutions such as international registries of names are also considered. The theme throughout this Comment is what an incredibly arduous battle that is developing, when one takes into account that curtailing child pornography on the Internet involves the policing of citizens with widely differing domestic laws, cultures, and social mores on a worldwide scale.

In the summer of 1996, a U.S. federal grand jury indicted thirteen individuals from the United States, and three from Australia, Canada, and Finland were charged with orchestrating and participating in an on-line molestation of ten-year-old girls.(1) The defendants took part in real-time photo shoots where they typed messages requesting photos of the girls in certain poses, while one member shot photos with a digital camera and transmitted the photos back to the group.(2) The defendants were members of the "Orchid Club," a private, on-line child pornography group that shared sexually explicit images and videos of girls as young as five.(3) To be a member of the Orchid Club, members had to know the password to access photos and on-line chat sessions.(4) Initiation to the club required a potential member to describe a personal sexual experience with a child.(5)

At any given time, there are, on average, around one million sexually explicit pictures of children on the Internet.(6) In just one week in December of 1995, 5,651 messages about child pornography(7) were posted on just 4 electronic bulletin boards.(8) Included in these messages were over eight hundred graphic pictures of adults or teenagers engaged in sexual activity with children between eight and ten years of age.(9)

These statistics and the perverse meld of crime, technology, and subculture evidenced by the Orchid Club were hardly contemplated by the nations that ratified the United Nations 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).(10) The UNCRC, which as of April 15, 1996, was ratified by 187 countries,(11) provides basic international guidelines for the protection of children from sexual exploitation via child pornography.(12) Cited by experts as a "watershed document,"(13) Article 34 of the UNCRC provides:

   States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual
   exploitation and sexual abuse . . . [and] take all appropriate national,
   bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent: (a) The inducement or
   coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity; (b) The
   exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual
   practices; [and] (c) The exploitative use of children in pornographic
   performances and materials.(14)

The UNCRC's implementation mechanism states that the governments of all the nations who have ratified the UNCRC are obligated to take every measure possible, whether individually or in conjunction with other governments, to prevent child pornography within their borders.(15) Thus, if these governments fail to enforce their own laws against child pornography, they are in violation of the UNCRC.(16)

The UNCRC is the first legally binding international agreement that protects children from sexual exploitation.(17) It contains key provisions against all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation, and calls for various legal, administrative, and social measures to protect children.(18) This Comment will show that the UNCRC's effectiveness may be muted by its fragmented implementation, conflicting laws among the nations that have adopted it, and the onset of advanced computer technology which provides easy and inexpensive access to child pornography. …

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