As the council of ministers approved proposals for a Portuguese paedophile register – to include both national and international residents – the country’s media has stressed that the original idea of giving parents of young children “free access” has had to be throttled back.
Now the plan – that still has to be discussed in parliament – envisages access depending on “concrete, firmly-based suspicions”.
The U-turn – as Portuguese media calls it – is designed to protect innocent people and the police forces in charge of checking out any tip-offs.
PSP union president Paulo Rodrigues explained: “In such a sensitive area, there are bound to be dozens of false alarms. Therefore mechanisms should be created to ensure police don’t investigate an innocent person or that people falsely accused do not see their lives destroyed.”
As ministers agreed, it is an incredibly delicate subject – with some ‘camps’, including Amnesty International, already screaming “justice by stoning!” and alleging that the legislation is “extremely dangerous”.
Even former Portuguese president Jorge Sampaio is against the idea, suggesting it is yet another attack on “the protection of people’s dignity”.
The ping-pong debate makes excellent points – but as Teixeira da Cruz has repeatedly stressed, the bottom line must be “child protection”.
Thus, so far, the plan is that anyone with a complaint should be able to approach police services and “allege a concrete situation that justifies a firmly-based fear that a determined person could be on the register”, reports Correio da Manhã.
Complainants will have to prove that a minor lives or studies in a borough where the suspected sex offender lives before being allowed access to the register, adds CM – and in cases where parents do not know the suspected offender’s name, police will be in charge of trying to find it out.
In cases where it is confirmed that an offender does indeed reside in the borough in question, police will “have to take measures to guarantee the safety of minors” – and the parents will have to keep the name/identity of the offender to themselves.
As CM points out, there will still be a way to go before the new law is approved.
The country’s data protection commission has not yet been given any opportunity to have its say, and attitudes on what is and what is not acceptable vary across the board.
But for now, the news that the list will include foreigners resident in Portugal “but condemned in other countries” will satisfy many.
Newspapers report that the list is not designed to be “perpetual”. In other words, sex offenders handed light sentences will only feature on the list for five years, while those going to jail for five to 10 years face their names remaining on the list for anything up to 20 years.
Meantime, free access to the list will be given to magistrates, child protection agencies and prison and remand services.
Other clauses of the new law envisage anyone condemned for sex crimes being “prohibited from exercising any activity, profession or function that involves dealing with children”. And in the case of parents being accused of offences against their own children, parental rights will be removed for any period from five to 20 years.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]