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MEXICO: Lax Legislation Creates "Free Zone" for Internet Paedophiles

Adrián Reyes

MEXICO CITY, Apr 2 2005 (IPS) - More than 4,000 child pornography websites have been uncovered in Mexico over the last five years, but thanks to legal loopholes, the perpetrators quite frequently escape punishment.

In March, police in Spain exposed a paedophilia ring that also encompassed operations in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, France, Italy, Mexico, Panama, Sweden and Uruguay.

The Spanish police investigation into the ring uncovered a total of 900 websites with child pornography content, of which 200 originated in Mexico.

"We patrol the Internet and if we find websites with this form of pornography, we investigate them and block them to keep the paedophiles from contacting new victims," one of the directors of the Mexican Public Security Ministry&#39s "cyber police" force told IPS.

However, according to the source, who asked to remain anonymous, Mexican laws limit the intelligence work done by this specialised force, which has nonetheless uncovered countless criminal activities perpetrated using the Net, including pornography, drug trafficking, fraud, extortion, identity and information theft, subversive activities and kidnappings.

In 2003 alone, he said, 364 child pornography sites were found, in which five percent of the victims were infants under one year of age, seven percent were children between the ages of one and four, 14 percent between four and eight, 36 between eight and 12, and 38 percent between 12 and 17.

"Sometimes these Internet paedophiles pass themselves off as women to seduce young boys, and if the kids are at home alone, they can sometimes convince them to take off their clothes and pose in front of a webcam," he said.

On other occasions, the perpetrators make contact with minors by exchanging e-mails or "chatting" through web-based messaging services.

Often they will pretend they are kids themselves and invite the boys or girls they meet in chat rooms to a fictitious party or some other meeting place, where they will lie in wait and abuse them, the cybercrime specialist noted.

"Children with low self-esteem, who feel neglected by their parents or have difficulty relating to others, are prime potential victims of paedophiles," psychologist Guadalupe Azuara commented to IPS. "Children like these can be easily &#39hooked&#39 by individuals who reel them in by showing an interest in them."

In an interview with IPS, Federico Delfín, a sex therapist and president of the independent Council for the Certification of Sex Education and Sexology Professionals, maintained that paedophilia is fuelled by the model of modern society in which some men feel their "manhood" is reinforced by degrading other individuals and treating them as objects.

In this case, it is underage children and teens who are chosen as their objects, he noted.

The Mexican Congress is finally taking action to close up the gaps in legislation that organised crime rings use to pursue activities like child pornography on the Internet.

Criminal groups know that there are no laws establishing penalties for these crimes, which generate over 20 million dollars in income annually, according to statistics from Mexico&#39s Federal Preventive Police.

Mexico is used by crime syndicates to commit Internet fraud, since they can take advantage of the lack of legislation regarding the identification and punishment of cybercrime, said lawmaker Jesús Aguilar, secretary of the Chamber of Deputies Communications Committee and a member of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Aguilar, the author of one of the draft bills being studied by Congress to penalise cybercrime, told IPS that there are currently no laws in Mexico that properly address infractions committed through electronic means, like Internet child pornography.

"A judge will not admit a backup file of a computer database as evidence, even if it contains proof of a crime," noted Aguilar. "Our laws demand material evidence of the commission of a crime in order for it to be punished," he added.

In October, when the next session of the lower house begins, the cyber police hope they will be provided with more weapons to catch and prosecute paedophiles who trawl for victims on the Net, said Deputy Guillermo Tamborrell, a representative of the governing conservative National Action Party (PAN) and member of the Committee for Attention to Vulnerable Groups.

Numerous proposed reforms of the Federal Penal Code are awaiting approval, in order to specifically define the use and distribution of child pornography material on the Internet as crimes and establish penalties ranging from fines to prison sentences of up to 14 years.

Mexico lags far behind in this area, but it could make significant progress if it joins in on international mechanisms like those created by the European Union to fight organised cybercrime, Federico Manzo, an advisor to the Chamber of Deputies Communications Committee, told IPS.

In view of the seriousness and scope of the Web-based abuse of minors uncovered by the Spanish police operation, Mexican legislators are working as part of an interdisciplinary team that also includes Internet service distributors, other business representatives and security forces, all with the aim of developing laws to effectively combat cybercrime.

In a recent tour of cyber cafes in Mexico City, this IPS correspondent confirmed that minors under 18 years of age can rent a computer for under a dollar an hour and surf the Internet with no restrictions whatsoever.

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