A short history of paedophile activism

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Other sexual minorities created separate organizations. For example, and perhaps most controversially, paedophile interest groups emerged from the 1970s in numerous countries, including the Netherlands, the US, and the UK. Paedophile activism was particularly prominent in the Netherlands, where the respectable Dutch Sexual Reform Organization (NVSH) supported the publication in 1972 of the book Sex met kinderen ('Sex with Children'), which outlined international research on 'inter-generational sex', and which was widely drawn upon in paedophile political activism across Western Europe. In 1979, a petition to the Dutch Parliament calling for the legalization of consensual sexual relationships between children and adults was supported by the NVSH, feminist organizations, and the COC, the oldest still-existing gay rights organization in the world (founded in 1946). Around the same time, the Protestant Foundation for Sex Education (PSVG) distributed tens of thousands of copies of an information booklet with the title Paedophilia to Dutch elementary schools (1979-81).

In contrast to the World Health Organization's characterization of paedophilia as a sexual and mental disorder, paedophile activists argued for greater legitimacy, declassification of paedophilia as mental illness, children's sexual rights, and the decriminalization of (consensual) inter-generational sex. In France, various public petitions of the late 1970s called on Parliament to abolish age of consent laws; in particular, a 1977 petition calling for the decriminalization of all consenting relations between adults and minors was signed by prominent public intellectuals including Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, and France's most prominent child psychoanalyst Françoise Dolto.

Paedophile advocacy groups thus operated in a context in which cultural ideas about children's sexuality were being redefined more generally, and in which the age of sexual maturity had dropped significantly, probably due to better health and nutrition. For example, by the 1960s to 1970s, girls reached puberty on average around the age of 13 in Western countries, as well as among prosperous groups in many non-Western countries, compared to 16 or 17 a century earlier; and boys reached physical sexual maturity around 17, compared to 23 in the mid-19th century; a trend that has continued since.

Groups such as the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) in the UK (created in 1974); North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) in the US (created in 1978); the Danish Paedophile Association (DPA) (set up in 1985); and International Paedophile and Child Emancipation (IPCE) (founded in the early 1990s), drew on Freudian theories and on sexological research, including the Kinsey Reports, to argue that children are sexual beings, and on ancient Greek models of sex to argue for the 'educational benefits' of such relationships.

While always a controversial issue among the wider population, public attitudes towards adult-child sexual relationships have hardened significantly since the 1980s, though important cultural variations remain. In Western Europe, paedophile political lobbies have mostly withered away in the face of increasing public outrage at sexual abuse of children, and although in the Netherlands a 'Love Thy Neighbour, Freedom and Diversity' Party was founded in 2006 whose aims included seeking to decriminalize sexual activities at any age unless they are dangerous or coerced (it also supported the criminalization of sexual maltreatment of animals, currently not punishable in Dutch law), it was unable to raise the required number of public signatures from Dutch citizens to participate in actual elections. In the US, Canada, and the UK, increasing police surveillance and criminalization of their members have led many - though not all - of the most prominent groups to disband or to transform into less visible Internet-based communities.

Political alliances initially existed between paedophile groups and some gay rights organizations, for example around issues such as the age of consent (the minimum legal age at which individuals are considered to be capable of giving informed consent to sexual relations). The legal age of consent is currently set around 17 or 18 in many countries, with limits of 12 in the Philippines, 13 in Spain and Japan, and 14 in Germany and Italy at the lower end of the scale. Sex outside of marriage is illegal at any age in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. Age of consent legislation constituted a major issue of gay rights mobilization over the past few decades, since in many countries the age of consent for sexual relations between men was set higher than that for heterosexual relations or same-sex relations between women (which were less commonly criminalized), though many countries have equalized the age of consent in recent years. In contrast, around 70 countries currently criminalize homosexuality (and, in the case of Zimbabwe, same-sex hand-holding as well) altogether.

Gay rights organizations' alliances with paedophile activism around the age of consent issue, or more generally on the grounds of solidarity with other sexual minorities, have melted away since the early 1980s. In large part this was the result of campaigns from the Christian Right such as the US conservative activist Anita Bryant's self-proclaimed 'crusade' against 'the threat of homosexual recruitment of our children', entitled Save Our Children, which portrayed all gays - and gay men in particular - as potential child molesters and triggered the start of organized opposition to gay rights organizations in the US from the late 1970s. While the Dutch gay rights organization COC had declared in the early 1970s that gay liberation would never be complete without the sexual liberation of children and paedophiles, by the mid-1990s the great majority of gay rights organizations had distanced themselves explicitly from paedophile advocacy and condemned the campaigns for the removal of legal protections against sex between adults and children as sexual abuse, as illustrated in the statement about NAMBLA from a representative of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest US lesbian and gay lobbying group: 'they are not part of our community and we thoroughly reject their efforts to insinuate that paedophilia is an issue related to gay and lesbian civil rights'.

source: From the book 'Sexuality: A Very Short Introduction' by Veronique Mottier; www.boychat.org/messages/1463182.htm; Book from: 2008