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LCQ5: Strengthening online safety for children and teenagers
     Following is a question by the Hon So Cheung-wing and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Tang Ping-keung, in the Legislative Council today (June 22):
     A study on the risks to which children and teenagers are exposed online has found that 40 per cent of the respondents have been exposed to virtual sexual harassment (including forced receipt of online sexual and nude contents, sexual solicitation, or sexual experience), and 20 per cent have experienced cyberbullying. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) as it has been reported that the Law on the Protection of Minors and the Law on the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency of the Mainland are more stringent and effective than Hong Kong laws in terms of regulating obscene and pornographic articles and online information involving minors, whether the Government will, by drawing reference from the practices of the Mainland, prevent children and teenagers from being exposed to the aforesaid online sexual harassment and cyberbullying through enacting legislation;
(2) as it has been reported that the Government has seldom invoked the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance and the Prevention of Child Pornography Ordinance to institute prosecutions against online pornographic contents involving children and teenagers because such ordinances mainly regulate traditional media or publications, whether the Government will amend the legislation or enact new legislation, so as to enhance the stringent regulation of such kind of online behaviour and reduce the difficulties in law enforcement in respect of gathering evidences and instituting prosecutions; and
(3) whether the Government will consider creating the post of commissioner for online safety for children and teenagers as well as establishing an independent organisation dedicated to online safety, so as to provide, in respect of cases of cyberbullying as well as online sexual exploitation and abuse involving children and teenagers, victims with a friendly mechanism for help-seeking, case follow-up and complaints, and to formulate relevant guidelines and provide the resources needed for such mechanism?
     The online activities of children and young people increase in the age of digitisation, making them more vulnerable to potential cyber risks. The Government and all sectors of the society have taken corresponding measures to protect them and teach them how to handle the cyber risks.
     In consultation with the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, the Education Bureau (EDB) and the Labour and Welfare Bureau, the reply to the questions raised is as follows:
(1) The Law on the Protection of Minors and the Law on the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency of the Mainland as mentioned in the question were formulated to protect the physical and psychological health of minors. Some of their provisions strictly regulate minors' access to obscene and pornographic articles as well as online information.
     As a matter of fact, there exists relevant laws in Hong Kong to regulate obscene and pornographic articles, including the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO), the Prevention of Child Pornography Ordinance and the Crimes Ordinance. According to the COIAO, the Obscene Articles Tribunal is to determine whether an article is obscene or indecent. The COIAO also prohibits publishing obscene articles and imposes rules and restrictions on publishing indecent articles, including displaying warning on packaging. Particularly for juveniles, the COIAO explicitly prohibits publishing an indecent article to a juvenile.
     Regarding child pornography, the Prevention of Child Pornography Ordinance prohibits the printing, making, production, reproduction, copying, import, export, publication, possession and promotion of child pornography. There are also clear provisions in the Crimes Ordinance to criminalise the procurement or offer of persons under 18 for making pornography or for live pornographic performances, as well as the publication of images originating from the commission of unlawful recording of intimate parts and publication of intimate images without consent.
     Depending on the circumstances, conduct involving online sexual harassment and cyberbullying may also result in the commission of other offences such as blackmail, criminal intimidation and access to computer with criminal or dishonest intent and more. In case the relevant conduct involves inappropriate use of personal data, it may also contravene the data protection principles under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.
(2) The Internet is not an unreal world that is beyond the law. Most of the crime-prevention laws in the real world are applicable to the online world in principle. Child pornography, regardless of whether it appears on the Internet, is covered by relevant legislation.
     The COIAO and the Prevention of Child Pornography Ordinance not only regulate traditional media or publications, but also information on the Internet. The COIAO regulates obscene or indecent articles published in Hong Kong, including those on the Internet. In 2021, 66 people were prosecuted for contravening the prohibition on publishing obscene articles, of which 65 were convicted and all of them were sentenced to immediate imprisonment up to one year and four months.
     The Prevention of Child Pornography Ordinance also clearly states that "publish" includes making any message or data available through any means of electronic transmission. In 2021, the Police prosecuted 22 persons for offences relating to child pornography, of which 20 were convicted, and 11 persons were sentenced to immediate imprisonment up to two years.
     The Police has been committed to combating crimes relating to child pornography. Although many online child pornography involve overseas activities which increase the difficulty in collecting evidence, the Police will continue to conduct online patrols and take intelligence-led enforcement actions to combat relevant crimes. The Police also maintains close co-operation and exchange of intelligence with the INTERPOL, and take actions against crimes relating to online child pornography.
(3) Relevant government bureaux and departments have provided resources and adopted various measures to protect children and juveniles, and strive to provide them with the necessary services.
     The Government established the Commission on Children (the Commission) in 2018 to provide overall steer on children initiatives; formulates policies, setting strategies and priorities related to the development and advancement of children; and oversees the implementation of relevant work. In response to the society's concerns on sexual abuse and cyberbullying, the Commission particularly discussed on the topics of "Sex Education for Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse" and "Prevention and Handling of School and Cyber Bullying" last year to understand the children protection policies of different bureaux. The Commission also collected views from different stakeholders regarding "Domestic Violence" and "Child Sexual Abuse" through online stakeholder engagement sessions. The Commission has provided suggestions to relevant bureaux and departments and established mechanism for monitoring and follow-up.
     As for law enforcement, the Police has set up the "Family Conflict and Sexual Violence Policy Unit" at headquarters level and the "Child Abuse Investigation Units" at regional level. These dedicated units work with the Family and Child Protective Services Units of the Social Welfare Department in carrying out joint investigation on serious child abuse cases. The Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau also investigates online crimes relating to child pornography.
     In addition, the EDB has all along adopted a zero-tolerance policy on school bullying, including cyberbullying, and formulated relevant reporting channels and handling procedures with a highly transparent monitoring mechanism, and following up on every bullying incident in a proactive and serious manner. To enhance teachers' professional knowledge and competencies of preventing and handling school bullying, including cyberbullying, in schools, the EDB continuously organises relevant professional development programmes for the teachers.

     To further strengthen the protection of children, the Chief Executive announced in her 2021 Policy Address that the Government would take forward the legislation on mandatory reporting mechanism of child abuse for early identification of suspected victims of child abuse. The Government has already commenced the relevant preparatory work, with the target of introducing the legislation into the Legislative Council in the first half of 2023.
     Thank you President.
Ends/Wednesday, June 22, 2022
Issued at HKT 16:26
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