Children caught up in phone porn

Increasing cellphone use in South Africa means that the production and consumption of child pornography is on the rise.

And, according to those who police the industry, it is children themselves who are producing and circulating the material.

The senior state prosecutor for the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) sexual offences unit, Brandon Lawrence, says there is a notable problem of school kids filming or taking photos of themselves on their cellphones and circulating them.

Meanwhile, Film and Publications Board (FPB) chief operations officer Mmapula Makola told the Mail & Guardian that the creation, distribution and possession of child pornography happens mostly through cellphones, “especially among learners. They take videos and pictures performing sexual acts and these videos get distributed around via cellphone.”

Child pornography is monitored by the FPB as mandated by the Films and Publications Act 65 of 1996, which makes it unlawful to distribute, possess and produce child pornography.

The FPB runs a website called fpbprochild.org.za which allows the public to report child pornographic material discovered on the internet. Makola said once the query is reported the FPB refers the matter to the police for further investigation.

The hotline is part of the FPB’s campaign against child pornography, which aims to create awareness among South African communities, particularly children, of the risks associated with the possession, creation and viewing of pornographic content on the internet, as well as on cellphones.

“The campaign also aims to empower children to be responsible in their conduct and to be vigilant when using social networking sites or interacting with strangers,” Makola said.

In addition to the FPB Act, which focuses on the possession of child pornography, the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2007 also deals with sexual offences and addresses all other uses of porn.

“We have quite a lot of cases, but probably not enough,” said Lawrence, noting that investigating such cases requires extensive resources. While there has been an increase, he said, the rise could be due to an increase in reports, not necessarily incidents.

Several of the cases currently with the NPA were discovered, said Lawrence, because of international co-operation or because someone took his or her computer in for repair. IT professionals who fix computers and discover illegal material are obliged by law to report it to the authorities.

This was the case last year when Dries van Heerden, a 55-year-old wrestling coach in Pretoria, sent his computer in for repairs and was found to be in possession of massive amounts of hardcore child pornography. He received a five-year suspended sentence.

Joan van Niekerk, the manager of training and advocacy at Childline South Africa, which works to protect children from violence through its call centre and therapy groups, said there were just 15 calls related to child pornography on the crisis line last year.

“However, our therapy centres deal with many more than that. Children rarely disclose involvement in child pornography when they first report abuse. It is, in fact, the last aspect of abuse they disclose.”

Van Niekerk said there is a variety of reasons: “Shame, embarrassment, fear that the photographs will be discovered.

Sometimes children do not even know that pictures have been taken of them and they are discovered by accident, sometimes by a family member on the family computer.

Children do not always realise that webcams are being used in some instances,” she said.

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Lisa Steyn
Lisa Steyn is a business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She holds a masters degree in journalism and media studies from Wits University. Her areas of interest range from energy and mining to financial services and telecommunication. When she is not poring over annual reports, Lisa can usually be found pottering about the kitchen.

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