Bad laws make Russia haven for child pornographers

Russia’s weak and poorly enforced laws against child pornography have turned the country into a haven for paedophiles, participants at a conference in Moscow devoted to the problem said this week.

“Russia is without doubt being used as an area where one can distribute child pornography through internet with relative impunity because of weaknesses in the criminal code,” Yelena Mizulina, a lawyer employed by the Russian Parliament, said at the meeting.

Maximum sentences of six years for production or distribution of child pornography, rising to eight years in cases involving parents or teachers, are too low and viewing this type of material should also be made a crime in the Russian Federation, Mizulina said.

An expert in the fight against trafficking of human beings, Mizulina introduced an amendment adopted in December 2003 that toughened pornography laws and for the first time distinguished between pornography involving adults and minors.

Mizulina also called on the Russian Federation to ratify a protocol on combating child pornography in the United Nations’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by 87 countries.

“Unfortunately Russia is not one of the countries leading the struggle against this problem,” said Boris Gavrilov, deputy head of investigations at the Russian interior ministry, at the conference organised by the US State Department and Unicef.

Seventeen child pornography cases were opened in the country in the first six months of 2005, compared to 30 cases in 2004, Gavrilov said.

“That might not seem much” taking into account the hundreds, even thousands, of child pornography sites identified by Russian investigators but police were “working within their means,” he continued.

Gavrilov blamed the ease with which material could be distributed, citing the recent case of a man arrested in Vladimir, a small city east of Moscow, for filming paedophile videos with at least 19 minors in his own home and distributing them from his personal computer.

In 2001, a joint US-Russian police operation, named “Blue Orchid,” dismantled a child pornography network, resulting in the arrest of 15 people in Moscow and 40 others around the world.

But there have been no such high-profile cases since then and the problem is still very much there, Mizulina said, emphasising that street children are the main victims.

Homeless children, now believed to number in the hundreds of thousands in Russia after the decline of social infrastructure during the 1990s, often resort to prostitution and congregate in groups around major train stations. - AFP

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