Hintalovon Child Rights Foundation and ECPAT International’s new country overview looks at the sexual exploitation of children in Hungary. This article highlights some of the most pressing risks presented in the report, including:
It also calls attention to the work that still needs to be done to tackle child trafficking for sexual purposes in Hungary.
In July 2020, attention was drawn to the issue of online child sexual exploitation after the Hungarian ambassador to Peru was found to be in possession of more than 19,000 child sexual abuse recordings. The case also drew attention to the fact that there is no established practice regarding the punishment of online child sexual exploitation crimes and the fact that child sexual abuse material is not defined in Hungarian legislation. This was particularly worrying, as a 2019 study found that from more than 9000 teenagers under 18 surveyed, 39% had been asked for a sexual/naked picture in an online chat conversation. The growing need for Hungary to define child sexual abuse material in legislation is further illustrated by the fact that in early 2020, 41.6% of content reported to the Hungarian Internet Hotline was “paedophilia content”, 23.7% of which was determined to be child sexual abuse material. In 2011, the proportion of “paedophilia content” was only 7.7%.
Weak national data collection on online child sexual exploitation in Hungary makes it difficult to quantify the scale of the issue. Nevertheless, the report highlights the urgent need for strengthening legislation and protections for children against online sexual exploitation.
Currently, Hungarian children are vulnerable to child, early and forced marriage, as Hungarian law allows for the marriage of children at the age of 16 with the guardianship authority’s prior consent. While the research we looked at highlights that all Hungarian children are therefore vulnerable to child, early and forced marriage, it also identified that girls belonging to Hungary’s Roma community were the most vulnerable group. While Hungarian law does not allow for marriage under the age of 16, anecdotally parents unofficially marry their children before the age of 16. As many such marriages are unofficial, there are no statistics available on this phenomenon.
The report highlights that marginalised children, those living in deep poverty and low socioeconomic status are at increased risk of sexual exploitation. Children and Roma people, are much more exposed to the risks of poverty than the rest of the population. Another group at particular risk of sexual exploitation are children living in state care facilities. Similarly to several other countries in the region, the number of children living in state care facilities in Hungary is extremely high – corresponding to approximately 8% of all Hungarian children. Hungarian state care facilities have varying levels of staff supervision, and perpetrators may find ways to target the emotionally and financially vulnerable children living in the institutions and take advantage of them.
The country overview also indicates that mechanisms put in place to facilitate the reporting of child sexual exploitation crimes and support children vulnerable to sexual exploitation were, in many cases, inefficient. The country’s Child Protection Act outlines an ‘alerting system’ made up of health service providers, general practitioners, the police, educational institutions and the guardianship authority, who are all responsible for coordinating together to identify and report child sexual exploitation crimes. However, the evidence cited in the report shows that the alerting system is unsuccessful due to a lack of information and inadequacies experienced by members. Therefore, many cases are not identified, and it remains difficult for stakeholders to provide assistance to vulnerable children.
Services provided for children have also been found to be inadequate. The report highlights how international observers have stated that services provided for survivors are rare, uncoordinated and unsatisfactory. This is especially the case for children in state institutional care or foreigners without legal residential status, who may be discriminated against. The limited effectiveness of services for survivors is reflected in the figures on compensation for victims of crimes. In 2019, where compensation was provided in a total of just 48 cases nationally, only one case was a victim of sexual exploitation under the age of 18.
The report highlights how Hungary is primarily an origin and transit country for human trafficking. Hungarian victims are most commonly found in other European states such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom.
In 2015-2016 out of 1,310 registered child victims of trafficking in the European Union, 647 were of Hungarian nationality, 86% of which were girls.
n light of these figures, efforts have been made to tackle the trafficking of children more effectively in Hungary.
For example, legal amendments in 2020 introduced the definition of “alleged victim of trafficking in persons” to refer to persons under 18 offering sexual services despite the related legal prohibition. This decriminalised child victims and helped to provide wider opportunities for them to receive assistance.
Further, in 2019, 22 specialised human trafficking professionals were appointed at county police headquarters to lead in improving the efficiency of investigations.
While this progress is welcome, there are worrying aspects. Although training is mandatory for criminal justice personnel involved in identifying victims of human trafficking, the report identifies that particularly vulnerable groups are sometimes excluded from these identification mechanisms. Reports on the implementation and evaluation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings published in 2015 and 2019 by the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings have also highlighted the need to reach out to vulnerable children living in marginalised areas through prevention and awareness-raising programmes. They also stressed the importance of training all professionals working in basic and specialist care.
Attempts have been made to address these shortcomings in Hungary’s 2020-2023 National Strategy to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings. Still, it remains too early to judge whether services have improved for children.