Fact Check: Unpacking the Viral Claim That Germany Decriminalized Possession of Child Porn

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Germany's parliament voted to decriminalize the possession, acquisition and distribution of child pornography.


Rating: Mostly False
Rating: Mostly False

A viral claim circulating on social media in May 2024 stated that Germany had "decriminalized" the possession of child pornography. Videos and posts on TikTok, X and Instagram fueled the controversy, leading to widespread outrage regarding the alleged new rule.

In reality, Germany did not decriminalize child pornography, but instead voted to reduce the criminal penalty for the possession of child porn. We therefore have rated this claim as "Mostly False" due to nuances and misinformation surrounding the topic.

On May 16, 2024, the Bundestag, Germany's federal parliament, passed a draft law that adjusted minimum sentences for possession, acquisition and distribution of child pornography. Previously, child porn possession was punishable by a minimum of one year in prison. The new legislation reclassified possession, acquisition and distribution as misdemeanors, reducing the minimum sentence to between three and six months. According to the Bundestag, "The offences regulated in Section 184b of the Criminal Code will thus be classified as misdemeanors and not as crimes." The adjustment aimed to allow for more proportional sentencing, particularly in cases where the offenders are adolescents, or where the circumstances may warrant a lesser sentence.

Social media played a significant role in spreading sensationalist claims about this law. Some posts misinterpreted the legislative changes, suggesting a complete decriminalization of child porn possession. For instance, a TikTok video by @purepower34, and a post on X by journalist Shaykh Sulaiman, which received more than 526,000 views at the time of writing, suggested that Germany now allows possession of child porn without any legal repercussions. According to Sulaiman's post, "This action is being praised by a group advocating for 'ped*ph*le rights,' which has additionally proposed lowering the age of consent to 12."

The new draft law introduced more precise definitions for various offenses related to child exploitation. It aimed to distinguish between active perpetrators of child abuse and those possessing inappropriate materials without direct involvement in abuse. The legislative changes also emphasize proportional sentencing. Rather than decriminalizing possession, the law establishes different levels of punishment based on the severity of the crime and the context in which the material was possessed.

The Bundestag explained that "such cases have occurred particularly frequently among parents and teachers of older children or adolescents who found child pornography material in their possession and passed it on to other parents, teachers or school management to inform them of the problem."

Officials and legal experts in Germany clarified that the new law aims to ensure that punishments fit the crimes more appropriately, distinguishing between different levels of offenses to better allocate legal resources and attention to the most severe cases. According to a March 2024 news release from the Bundestag:

The federal government sees the classification of the crimes as misdemeanors as an effective means of dealing with the numerous juvenile offenders appropriately and flexibly. "Here too, the people involved are not usually acting in order to be sexually aroused by the child pornography content, but rather out of a drive that is typical for the adolescent stage of development, such as naivety, curiosity, thirst for adventure or the desire to impress," the justification states.

Media outlets reported on the legislative changes. AP News explained that Germany was refining its legal approach to ensure proportionality in sentencing for individual cases, but was not decriminalizing the behavior. The previous law, which took effect in July 2021, stipulated that an individual who "'disseminates child pornographic content or makes it available to the general public' is punished with a prison sentence of between one and 10 years."

European Conservative explained the legislative intent, but still characterized it as "decriminalization."

In Germany, downgrading an offense from a crime to a misdemeanor means it is still against the law, but the severity and associated penalties are reduced (the German word "Verbrechen," which means "crime" in a general sense, refers more specifically to offenses roughly equivalent to felonies in American law). More severe offenses carry a minimum penalty of one year in prison, while misdemeanors can have lighter sentences and may include fines or shorter jail terms.

Downgrading an offense to a misdemeanor in Germany does not equate to decriminalization. Decriminalization implies that the act is no longer considered unlawful and typically results in no legal penalties. However, when an offense is reclassified as a misdemeanor, the behavior remains illegal and punishable, but the legal system can apply a more proportional response to less-severe cases. In the context of child pornography possession, despite the reduction in minimum sentencing, it remains an unlawful act with significant legal repercussions in Germany.

With the Bundestag passing the draft law, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier must now authorize it, and it must be published in the Bundesgesetzblatt, or Federal Law Gazette, to become effective. Steinmeier, who is a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, has only refused to sign one bill into law while president. In 2020, Steinmeier withheld his signature from the "Hate Speech Act" due to constitutional concerns. He informed the Bundestag of his willingness to sign it if it was amended appropriately within a reasonable timeframe. He eventually signed the amended bill in April 2021.

In sum, the claim that Germany "decriminalized" child pornography possession is mostly false. While the country has indeed passed legislation affecting how these cases are handled, it has not removed legal penalties for possessing (or acquiring or distributing) child porn. The new law focuses on proportional sentencing and better distinguishes between various levels of offenses, but acquisition, possession and distribution remain illegal and punishable by law.

Snopes has previously written about Germany's laws, including the mostly false claim that the nation banned pork from school canteens because it offends Muslim migrants, and the false claim that X was fined $30 billion for violating hate speech laws in Germany.


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