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Amended Criminal Code will better protect children. But only children

The Sejm is working on changes to the Criminal Code. The main thrust of the planned amendment is to improve the legal protection of children. The change is a step in the right direction. However, while increasing the standard of protection of children, the amendment’s proposers turn a blind eye to the needs of other groups vulnerable to discrimination such as older people or persons with disabilities.

The draft amendment changes, among other things, article 53 § 2 of the Criminal Code, the provision that includes a list of values that guide courts’ sentencing practices. The proposers want to supplement the provision with a section that will oblige courts to evaluate whether a criminal offence has been committed to the detriment of a minor. “Regrettably, this solution discriminates against individual members of other vulnerable groups who are at risk of becoming victims of the crime, for example, persons of elderly age and persons with an intellectual disability. They should also receive special protection from the state”, argues Marcin Wolny, an attorney working with the HFHR.

Moreover, the amendment introduces new types of offences that carry more severe penalties based solely on the fact that they are committed against children. “These changes have not been given a more broad justification by the drafters”, says Adam Klepczyński, a member of the HFHR’s legal team. “They contain legislative errors, too. For example, the drafters propose to change the number of the current Criminal Code’s article 156 § 3 to 156 § 5 – in the future, this may cause problems with determining which offence was committed by a perpetrator named to have violated either of these provisions.

Another change proposed in the draft amendment concerns the content of the legal obligation to report a crime. Upon the amendment’s adoption, this obligation will be imposed on anyone (generally, apart from the victim) who has learnt about the commission of an offence against minors, including sexual abuse, rape or production of pornographic content with children. “Such changes may clearly address the problem of institutional suppression of reports on sexual violence against children, at such organisations as schools or religious associations”, Mr Wolny says.

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