The Philippines has based a draconian ban on child pornography which means a potential life sentence for possessing books, comics or artwork considered by authorities to depict a child involved in sexual activity.
Republic Act 9775, “the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009,” previously reported here, has now been signed into law, and its provisions seem to be far more severe and far-reaching than previously imagined.
Producing, distributing, “promoting” or possessing anything defined as child pornography attracts anything up to a life sentence and a fine of 5 million pesos ($110,000).
The ban sweepingly defines child pornography as “any representation, whether visual, audio, or written combination thereof, by electronic, mechanical, digital, optical, magnetic or any other means, or a child engaged or involved in real or simulated explicit sexual activities.”
Alongside actual pornography featuring underage participants (which was already illegal), the ban clearly makes no distinction between fictional and non-fictional material, prescribing the same extreme penalties for both.
With no clear definition of “explicit sexual activities,” it also seems authorities are free to apply their own standards of judgement.
The ban on textual and audio material would also appear to define even talking about child sexuality as child pornography, and undoubtedly bans a variety of literary works featuring underage sex.
Possessing Vladimir Nabokov’s literary classic Lolita, considered one of the best English novels of the twentieth century, would certainly seem to attract a possible life sentence under these provisions.
As is usual with such laws, those under 18 writing about or recording activities with other “children” also face the full weight of the law, so in theory a minor could be handed a life sentence for writing about having sex with their partner, although presumably in such cases judges might decide to be lenient.
Internet service providers, hosts and owners of business premises are also enjoined to monitor for and quickly report any offending activity.
One of the authors of the bill rejoices at her success:
“We used to be a haven for child pornography proliferators and foreign pedophiles, now our country is going to be a safe haven for children.”
Displaying its usual commitment to freedom of expression, the EU expressed its delight with the draconian bill through its ambassador:
“It is extremely a positive step forward to fight child pornography. We are pleased that the legislature passed the bill and the President signed it into a law on November 17.”
Unsurprising considering international pressure was one reason for the ban.
Leaving aside the issue of the poorly written nature of the law, actual enforcement of the law is unlikely to be very effective, as the Philippines is by any estimation a chaotic and corrupt nation unable to enforce its existing body of laws, let alone any new ones. However, this is in itself hardly reassuring…