The European Commission has given the green light to a proposal aimed at toughening penalties for child abuse and exploitation.

The updated regulations broaden the scope of offenses and introduce stricter penalties along with specific measures for preventing and aiding victims. These new legal provisions complement a regulation proposal put forth by the Commission in 2022, which mandates that internet companies must detect, report, and remove child sexual abuse material from their platforms.

Highlighting the severity of the issue, the Commission notes that the threat of abuse is tangible and has escalated across the EU. In 2022 alone, 1.5 million cases of child sexual abuse were reported in the EU. The Commission further emphasizes that one in five children experiences some form of sexual violence, whether online or offline.

The internet has notably exacerbated the proliferation of child sexual abuse by facilitating online meetings among offenders who exchange videos and images depicting severe sexual violence against children, often very young ones.

The current EU regulations in this domain were established in 2011 and now require updating to address recent developments and bolster prevention and victim support. Key elements of the proposal include:

Expanding the definition of criminal offenses related to child sexual abuse in all Member States. These new offenses cover live broadcasting of child sexual abuse and the possession and exchange of child sexual abuse material. Additionally, the updated rules include material related to child sexual abuse in deep fakes or produced by AI.

Enhancing prosecution, prevention, and support. The proposal extends the timeframe for victims to report sexual abuse and pursue legal action against perpetrators.

Strengthening prevention efforts. Member States are encouraged to increase investments in awareness-raising initiatives, particularly concerning online risks, to ensure a safer and more secure internet environment for children and young people.