Costa Rica toughens legislation on child pornography

October 29, 2013

A Legislative Assembly commission last week approved the amendment of two articles of the country’s Penal Code to further criminalize child pornography. Articles 173 and 174 were modified to apply a broader definition of child pornography offenses and to increase prison penalties.

Data from the statistical department of the Judicial Branch show an increase by more than 50 percent in child pornography complaints in the last four years. However, loopholes in the law allowed many suspected offenders to go unpunished.

In one example, judicial records used as briefing materials for the legislative sessions show that only 1 of 38 defendants accused of producing child pornography between 2007 and 2009 was convicted. Even in that single case, the offender received parole. 

One of the most important changes to the Penal Code is the removal of the words “image and/or voice” in order to extend the description to any kind of representation of a minor.

The new description establishes punishments for the use of minors engaged in sexual situations in video, audio, photographs, illustrations and any kind of print or electronic media. It also forbids any representation of a minor’s genitalia for sexual purposes.

Modifications to Article 173 set penalties ranging from four to eight years in prison for those convicted of producing or reproducing pornographic material containing minors. The previous law established three-year prison sentences.

It also establishes a penalty of one to four years in prison for any person in possesion of this type of material, and a three- to six-year penalty for people transporting into the country any kind of child pornography.

Article 174 states that defendants found guilty of selling, financing, distributing or exhibiting child pornography will serve convictions of four to eight years.

Those caught selling, distribuiting or exhibiting pornography to minors could receive three to seven years in prison.

Lawmakers also added a new section to the same article to include as a criminal offenses virtual (online/digital) pornography and any form of child exploitation. The change aims not only to punish those exploiting minors but also those producing materials of adults portraying children in sexual situations.

The changes set penalties ranging from six months to two years for those who own, produce, reproduce, distribute or display any kind of pornographic material of adults representing a minor, and punishes any form of child representation with sexual intentions in drawings, cartoons or comics.

The reforms also include a modification of Article 61 of the Immigration Law (Law #8764) to ban from entering the country all foreigners convicted of sexual offenses against minors or even those pending legal proceedings.

The prohibition includes people with pending criminal proceedings for sexual offenses against minors or any person who has been convicted of any crime against minors in the past 50 years.

The amendments now await President Laura Chinchilla’s signature and publication in the official newspaper La Gaceta.

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