100 years ago: France against porn...
At a time when access to pornography has never been as easy as it is today, and is wreaking havoc, particularly among young people, Priscille Kulczyk, Research Fellow at the ECLJ, recalls that France signed the Convention for the Suppression of the Circulation of and Traffic in Obscene Publications just 100 years ago.
This article was published in French in Valeurs Actuelles, on September 14, 2023.
On September 12, 1923, several dozen States, including France, signed the "Convention for the Suppression of the Circulation of and Traffic in Obscene Publications" in Geneva, with the League of Nations. Under this treaty, States undertook to prohibit and repress any publication, marketing or circulation of obscene material, including cinematographic material. The States Parties undertook to prosecute and punish pornographic trafficking, in very broad terms, both in terms of the types of content and the related acts.
A French government initiative
France was the driving force behind this international Convention, pushing for the conclusion in Paris in 1910 of the Arrangement for the Suppression of the Circulation of Obscene Publications, with the aim of facilitating the mutual communication of information with a view to the investigation and punishment of offences relating to obscene publications. It was this agreement that led, thirteen years later, to the now century-old Convention.
An international convention to revive?
Although forgotten, this international Convention remains in force. Indeed, France has never denounced it - and therefore remains committed to it - unlike Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany.
Nevertheless, the Convention is far from being respected. In 1995, the French Supreme Court ruled that "since the entry into force of article 227-24 of the Penal Code, the manufacture and distribution of pornographic messages are punishable only when these messages are likely to be seen or perceived by a minor." Punishable, yes, but unfortunately not punished. In France, 2.3 million minors access pornographic sites every month, according to the French regulatory authority for audiovisual and digital communication. And yet, international treaties should take precedence over the law, i.e., it is this international convention that should take precedence over the penal code.
In any case, France does have a legal basis for combating pornography, and not just when it concerns minors. This is important, because the issue of pornography is not limited to the protection of minors. The fact of having reached 18 years of age does not protect adults against the harmful effects of pornographic consumption, either in terms of physical and mental health, particularly concerning the risk of addiction, or in the relational and affective sphere. Thinking that pornography is only dangerous for minors is to overlook the need to protect the "actors", especially women, who are often victims of violence, human trafficking and pimping. Minors or adults: the consumers of this pornography are indirectly complicit in this violence.
Society must become aware of the extent of the negative impact of pornography, on both its "producers" and its "consumers," and commit itself to combating this scourge. This forgotten Convention can contribute to this: activists and associations could invoke it in their legal actions. As for France, the initiator of this text, it is perfectly legitimate to give it new impetus, to bring together its signatory States and to work on its updating and current implementation in the context of the Internet.