The Hungarian government has always made it clear that the protection of children and families is one of its top priorities.
The new anti-paedophilia bill passed by the Hungarian legislature on Thursday is yet another proof that the Orbán-government does not just pay lip service to important issues, such as combating domestic violence or defending children.
Earlier, the Justice Ministry created a website where victims of domestic violence may seek help and find vital information about how to recognize and report violence committed within the family. The ministry has also opened or upgraded new victim assistance centres in the countryside, as well as pledged to create a nationwide network of such centres, making them available in every county. Furthermore, the collaboration agreement between the National Police and the Justice Ministry has been renewed, securing police assistance to the state-funded victim-helping network. Following the 2019 gruesome murder of two minors by their father who had been conditionally released from detention and was allowed visitation despite having been sentenced to prison for repeated wife battering crimes, justice minister Judit Varga ordered a comprehensive review of rules governing parole. As a result, the regulations concerning the conditional release of violent offenders have been tightened, and the early warning system of child protection services has been also transformed, in order to prevent such tragedies from happening again.
This time, draft legislation that would maximize the protection of children
from sexual predators has been submitted to the House by Fidesz MPs Máté Kocsis and Gabriella Selmeczi. According to the Justice Ministry, the new legal package is an exemplary, EU standard setting effort to ensure that children’s interests are taken into account during the proceedings of public authorities. The bill approved for debate by the Hungarian parliament on 27 May reflects the Hungarian government’s zero tolerance policy regarding paedophilia. As the minister said on her Facebook page, the proposed law ensures that ‘the legal consequences of sexual crimes against children are stern enough.’
One of the most important elements of the new draft law is the creation of a countrywide register of criminals convicted of sexual crimes against children. According to the bill, it will not be possible to conditionally release those found guilty of serious sexual assaults on minors, and courts will not have the discretion to impose light sentences in cases of aggravated paedophiliac crimes. Another proposal of the bill is the expansion of the types of jobs from which convicted paedophiles would be banned. But most importantly, should the bill become law, paedophiliac crimes would no longer expire in the future, which would minimize the chances of offenders avoiding justice.
There has already been criticism levelled at some elements of the bill, especially as regards the searchable database of sexual offenders. Critics fear that the personality rights of those convicted of sexual crimes against minors may be violated. A liberal website quoted UNICEF Hungary criticism that objected to the fact that the name and photo of offenders included in the database will be not only accessible to law enforcement authorities but also to the next-of-kin of children who would thus be able to check the record of those who are entrusted with the care of their children, such as babysitters, school workers or coaches. It is interesting that the UN’s organization whose mandate is the protection of children criticizes a move that enables parents to prevent their children from falling victims to sexual predators. Another objection the website quoted is that not all those who prey on children are “paedophiles”, [Sic] as the culprits may also be family members. That is also an odd way of looking at the issue – as if the family members status of offenders makes them no longer paedophiles. The fact that the government also intends to amend the law on child protection as part of the new package to include the statement that ‘the father is a man, and the mother is a woman,’ has apparently also angered some, and there are also voices citing concerns about the bill failing to include provisions regarding the treatment of offenders and victim assistance.
It is regrettable that even on such a hopefully non-controversial issue as combating paedophilia there is no consensus among political and civil actors in Hungary. The philosophy of the law-and-order conservative government reflected in the draft law is that the interests and rights of victims, especially in the case of vulnerable children, come first. Hungarian Conservative applauds that.
Zsófia Tóth-Bíró, online editor of Hungarian Conservative, Danube Institute research fellow