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The Child Protection Referendum by Lili Zemplényi

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The Child Protection Referendum

Alongside the general election, Hungary also held a referendum on issues related to the protection of children last week. The nature of the referendum questions bore a resemblance to Florida’s recently passed legislation, the so-called ‘Don’t say gay bill.’ Florida’s law was designed to protect minors by banning instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation from kindergarten through grade 3.[1] According to the Republican position, the bill was needed because there is an increasing tendency in American public schools to discuss age-inappropriate, sexuality and gender identity related contents with minors – without the consent of their parents. Whistleblowers have drawn attention to graphic, cartoon-style sex videos discussing masturbation with first graders in New York,[2] as well as to Californian fifth graders’ textbooks, dedicated to teaching very explicit sex and gender identity related content.[3]

The bill has created a sex-offender registry, and introduced more severe punishments for the sexual abuse of children

Albeit in Hungarian elementary schools there is no precedent for such explicit discussion of sexuality, in 2020, the children’s book Meseország mindenkié (Fairyland is for Everyone), a collection of tales which included LGBTQ+ characters, led to a heated public discussion in the country about what can be discussed about these issues with children. The domestic debate and the international tendencies prompted the government to propose the so-called ‘anti-paedophilia and child protection bill’ in Hungary. On the one hand, the bill has created a sex-offender registry, and introduced more severe punishments for the sexual abuse of children; on the other hand, the more controversial provisions of the law prohibit the screening or discussing of gender reassignment treatments with minors, as well as the popularizing of gender transition or homosexuality in public schools. Since the initial provisions concerned with the prosecution of paedophilia were unexpectedly complemented by the ban on the promotion of transitioning during sexual education, some perceived the law as aiming to conflate paedophiles and the LGBTQ+ community.[4] Others spoke out in defence of the law in response to the domestic backlash. Rod Dreher, senior editor at the prestigious American Conservative magazine wrote ‘if Hungarian voters saw the kind of thing that American children are propagandized by, they would be totally behind this bill.’[5]

Given the international and domestic uproar in reaction to the legislation, the Hungarian government announced it would initiate a referendum on the question. Albeit due to a low turnout the referendum was invalid, the overwhelming majority of those who cast valid votes supported the government’s position. The questions asked in the referendum and the breakdown of votes were as follows:

  1. Do you support allowing children in public schools to participate in sexual orientation classes without parental consent?
    1. Valid vote: 45% 
      1. Yes: 8%
      1. No: 92%
    1. Invalid vote: 20% 
    1. Not voted: 35% 
  2. Do you support giving children information about gender reassignment treatments?
    1. Valid vote: 44%
      1. Yes: 4%
      1. No: 96%
    1. Invalid vote: 20,5%
    1. Not voted: 35,5%
  3. Are you in favour of allowing media content of a sexual nature that affects children’s development to be presented to them without restrictions?
    1. Valid vote: 44%
      1. Yes: 5%
      1. No: 95%
    1. Invalid vote: 20,5%
    1. Not voted: 35,5% 
  4. Are you in favour of children being shown gender reassignment media content? 
    1. Valid vote: 44%
      1. Yes: 5%
      1. No: 95%
    1. Invalid vote: 20,5%
    1. Not voted:  35,5%[6]

A series of (pro-)LGBTQ+ Hungarian organisations came out opposing the referendum, including Budapest Pride, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Amnesty International and the Hungarian LGBT Alliance. They collectively called on citizens to cast invalid votes, and so did the united opposition, led by PM candidate Péter Márki-Zay. The argument put forward to oppose the referendum was that the questions are transphobic and homophobic, as they create a taboo in public education around the existence of LGBTQ+ people. Instead of proposing to discuss what organisations, and under what circumstances are allowed to deal with such topics, the referendum (and the corresponding bill) simply prohibit their discussion in public education, the opponents of the legislation argued. 

After the referendum was completed, the National Election Commission fined most of the organisations which had encouraged invalid votes, as according to the Commission, soliciting invalid voting is an abuse of the exercising of rights.[7] All organisations fined have the right to appeal at the Supreme Court. In their response to the fine, the organisations remarked that over 1.6 million people had expressed their opposition to the government’s ‘manipulative’ and ‘fearmongering’ referendum, and that the majority of Hungarians oppose the government’s exclusive rhetoric. The statement also called for abolishing the anti-paedophilia and child protection bill, which they called ‘a Putinian propaganda law.’[8] The government, on the other hand, highlighted that the vast majority of those who voted in the referendum opposed exposing children to age-inappropriate material on sexual self-identification and gender transitioning – in line with the legislation passed. 


Lili Zemplényi, trainee at Danube Institute


[1]Florida Man BTFOs Groomers, [online video], The Podcast of the Lotus Eaters, 30 March 2022,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auZtVEM8efs, accessed 10 April 2022.

[2] Mairead Elordi, ‘Parents At Elite NYC Private School Outraged Over Graphic Sex Ed Videos Shown To First Graders,’ Dailywire.com, (1 June 2021), https://www.dailywire.com/news/parents-at-elite-nyc-private-school-outraged-over-graphic-sex-ed-videos-shown-to-first-graders, accessed 10 April 2022.

[3] James Lindsay, cautiously optimistic (@ConceptualJames), ‘Weird, actually sick, stuff going on in California education,’ Twitter, 21 Oct. 2020,  https://twitter.com/conceptualjames/status/1318923641027989507, accessed 10 April 2022. 

[4] Tamás Orbán, ‘About Hungary’s New Anti-pedophilia Bill,’ hungarianconservative.com, (18 June 2021), https://www.hungarianconservative.com/articles/opinion/about-hungarys-new-anti-pedophilia-bill/accessed 10 April 2022. 

[5] Tamás Orbán, ‘Foreign Support of Hungary’s Anti-Paedophilia Law,’ hungarianconservative.com, (5 July 2021), https://www.hungarianconservative.com/articles/current/foreign-support-of-hungarys-anti-paedophilia-law/, accessed 10 April 2022.

[6] Huber Tamás, Nagy Flóra, ‘Érvénytelen lett a gyermekvédelmi népszavazás,’ Telex.hu, (4 April 2022), https://index.hu/belfold/2022/04/04/ervenytelen-lett-a-gyermekvedelmi-nepszavazas/, accessed 10 April 2022.

[7] Bakró-Nagy Ferenc, ‘Megbírságolják az érvénytelen népszavazásra buzdító civil szervezeteket,’ Telex.hu, (8 April 2022), https://telex.hu/valasztas-2022/2022/04/08/nvi-gyermekvedelmi-nepszavazas-birsag-ervenytelen,  accessed 10 April 2022.

[8] Hercsél Adél, ‘Civil szervezetek: A kormány bírsággal hallgattatná el a népszavazás megbuktatóit,’ Index.hu, (10 April 2022),  https://index.hu/belfold/2022/04/10/ervenytelen-gyermekvedelmi-nepszavazas-penzbirsag-civil-szervezetek/, accessed 10 April 2022.

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