Why are we charging children with child pornography offences?

The RCMP are investigating yet another child pornography case involving local teenagers sharing intimate photos on social media.

That case — in which a boy at Auburn Drive High allegedly circulated a picture of a female student to his friends without her permission — surfaced the same day two other local teenagers were to appear in court facing child pornography charges in connection with Rehtaeh Parsons’ suicide last year.

On that same day as well, a teenaged girl in British Columbia was convicted of distributing child pornography for posting nude pictures of her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend to her Facebook page in what the CBC report described as “an attempt to humiliate the other girl and prevent the old romance from being rekindled.”

Child pornography?

Canada’s child pornography laws were designed to protect children from sexual exploitation by adults. They were recommended by a couple of different reports in the 1980s “to emphasize the special treatment children should receive.” Which is why, explained one analyst, “perpetrators of child pornography would be subject to the severest punishment.”

And they are. Those guilty of making or distributing child porn can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. Even those possessing — or just looking — can go to jail for up to five years. Those convicted often must submit DNA samples and have future relationships with young people restricted. Not to forget the public shame: pedophiles, even within the criminal subculture, are the lowest.

So why are we using the hammer of those necessarily draconian laws to deal with teenagers — kids themselves — doing stupid things to each other?

I’m not suggesting sexting and the harassment and cyber-bullying that often accompany it are not serious, or don’t need to be dealt with.

The problem is that invoking the hammer of child pornography laws has two impacts. It trivializes the law it employs and, worse, the convictions probably won’t withstand legal scrutiny.

Even before the B.C. conviction, the girl’s lawyer had filed a constitutional challenge, asking the court to rule on whether  child pornography laws can be applied to young people.

By the time these cases are over, we may find we’ve wasted a lot of taxpayers’ money for no good end.


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