Joint statement of the Hungarian Women’s Lobby, NANE Association (Women for Women Against Violence) and Patent Association’s (Association of People Opposing Patriarchy) on the new law adopted on 15.06.2021, colloquially known as the “Homophobic Law”

Our organisations were pleased to learn that the government seems to be giving special attention to prosecuting the perpetrators of child sexual abuse. We can only welcome this. However, the bill itself (T/16365) adopted today is seriously flawed:

To call sexual violence against children paedophilia is misleading.

Framing the issue using the concept of paedophilia gives the misleading impression that sexual abuse against children is the result of a mental disorder or disease, whereas the majority of perpetrators are in a healthy mental state, usually maintain relationships with adult women, and their actions are motivated not by mental illness, but by their position of power vis-a-vis their child victim.

Neither the original bill nor the final version adopted addresses the prevention of sexual violence against children and victim support.

The strengthening of criminal measures, even if justified and welcome, cannot substitute and are ineffective without preventive, educational and support measures, activities and services, which ought to be based on a wide-ranging cooperation of institutions and professionals in the fields of child protection, law enforcement, the judiciary, social services, etc., as well as legal, psychological and financial assistance for victims.

Men who use underage prostitution should have been included in the scope of the law.

These offenders should be actively identified and prosecuted. The average age of entry into prostitution worldwide, including Hungary, is 14 years. In addition to pursuing consistent prosecution and punishment of those using and exploiting child prostitution, authorities must immediately cease prosecuting the victims of prostitution –adults as well as prostituted children – while letting the actual perpetrator walk free. Currently, victims are often punished on all sorts of spurious grounds (for example, because an adult man used a child in the wrong part of the municipal territory) while their abusers are not held accountable.

The state should make all possible efforts to reduce the risk of children being organised into the prostitution industry, with particular attention to vulnerable groups (such as children in extreme poverty, children from abusive family backgrounds, children in state care) and to create opportunities to exit prostitution. Setting up and continually providing targeted, long-term services for victims should be a priority.

There are also concerns about the elements of the new law that were adopted in accordance with the amendment proposal of Csaba Hende, the Vice President of the National Assembly responsible for legislation and Chairman of the Legislative Committee.

We are concerned that the government is conflating homosexuality and gender reassignment in this law, even though these are distinct concepts: the former refers to sexual orientation (i.e. individuals of which sex a person is sexually attracted to) and the latter to gender identity (i.e. what sex a person considers him/herself to be).

It deliberately conflates and confuses the sexual abuse and violence against children (wrongly framed as ‘paedophilia’) not only with pornography – to which it indeed has factual links –, but also with the two unrelated and distinct concepts of homosexuality and gender reassignment, mentioned above. In addition, ’depictions of sex for its own sake’ and ‘depicting or promoting homosexuality’ are not clear and precise descriptions in the amendment, and thus cannot be used as a basis for legislation.

We consider the conflation of sexual education that raises awareness on various phenomena with ’propaganda’ or persuasion a serious misunderstanding, misinterpretation, or even a deliberately misleading framing.

We believe that it is highly necessary to regularly discuss concepts related to sexuality with school-aged children. Through online pornography – which is often the only source of information in the absence of adequate sex and relationship education –, children are in fact exposed to propaganda. The vast amount of such content they are exposed to promotes dangerous, aggressive and violent acts, which has a serious impact on their psychological development and on the development of their sexuality and relationship culture.

They are exposed to and surrounded by these phenomena, whether or not this gets to be discussed at school or in the media. They encounter over-sexualisation, and agressive pornified content every day, and some of them also directly experience the acts depicted. If a young person realises that they are attracted to individuals of the same sex, or if they have been exposed to violence or to pornography at a young age, or if they or a peer of theirs is thinking about gender reassignment, it is extremely important that these issues are discussed in school with trained and informed adults and professionals. It is a serious mistake that the accepted law would prohibit sexual education in schools, if it also includes information on the existence of homosexuality.

Education is not the same as promotion.

Rather than limiting the possibility to provide sexual education in schools, sexual and relationship education should be universal, regular and holistic.

It should be aimed primarily at supporting and helping develop children’s concepts on non-violent relationships based on equality, mutuality and reciprocity. It should be open to children’s needs and should involve honest and informative dialogue with young people riddled by difficult issues and uncertainties. This is not aided by imposing bans. Action and protection against pornography, which is a serious threat to all children, cannot be based on secrecy and maintaining taboos. Children must be equipped with the ability to question and exercise critical thinking when encountering such content. This requires that they are adequately informed through education based on the values mentioned above.

After the Parliament was forced to revoke the infamous Act LXXVI of 2017 (on the “transparency” of organisations receiving international funding) for violating international law, we consider it a serious abuse of power and a repeated violation of international and domestic law that the governing parties are yet again making an attempt to filter, censor and “B-list” domestic NGOs, this time referencing the protection of children as an excuse to do so.

Many NGOs – including the authors of these comments – regularly hold trainings and courses for students and professionals in secondary schools. These aim to counter the harmful effects of pornography, to counter and prevent peer and adult bullying, gang and interpersonal violence. As part of that effort, they include the acceptability of diverging from unequal and hierarchical roles and norms prescribed for women and men, boys and girls, of not conforming to stereotypical expectations; and the acceptability of not conforming to heterosexuality. These programmes are developed using extensive professional and international literature and practice, and are often supported by EU funding. In our experience, such classes are in great demand and are seen as necessary and important by teachers and educational professionals. It would be a huge loss if such sessions were prohibited.

We regret to learn that the draft has been approved, so our comments have been ignored. This is yet another example of the government’s refusal to engage in any kind of meaningful dialogue with those affected by proposed legislation or the professional NGOs that represent them on important issues, and instead approving new laws with extreme haste – laws that threaten to invoke serious violations and restrictions of rights.