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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Votes to Raise Age of Consent to 16

The State Duma voted Thursday for a measure that would raise the age of sexual consent, outlaw child pornography and provide new penalties for those who lure children into the sex trade.

The bill, passed overwhelmingly in the first of three readings, aims to close legal loopholes that Russian and foreign law enforcement agencies say make it hard to protect the country's children.

The age of consent for sex would be raised from 14 to 16. The new criminal statutes would explicitly forbid luring children into the sex trade and provide jail sentences of up to six years for spreading "mass public corruption of children" through media and communications networks.

"The sex industry, the sale of minors into sexual slavery, is taking on an ever more threatening scale," Svetlana Goryacheva, chairwoman of the Duma's women, children and youth affairs committee, told the lower house of parliament.

"If we do not take measures, pedophiles of all stripes will flock to Russia and build a genuine brothel here," she said in remarks reported by Interfax.

Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department cited the low age of consent as one of the reasons it included Russia on a blacklist of states not doing enough to fight human trafficking. The State Department said Russian law made it difficult to prosecute those who lure Russian children into the sex trade.

Russian law does not currently distinguish pornography involving children from that involving adults, and Western law enforcement agencies say Russia has become a major -- perhaps the main -- source of child pornography on the Internet.

In a number of high profile cases in the past three years, prolific Russian child pornographers were released or served only very brief sentences, while some of their clients in the West were given long jail terms for buying their products.

Possession of child pornography in Russia is currently legal, and filming it is legal unless police can prove the children were 13 or younger.

The 14-year age of consent, enacted in the mid-1990s as part of measures aimed at liberalizing harsh Soviet-era sexuality laws, was also criticized by police for encouraging child prostitution and sex tourism -- when foreigners travel to Russia specifically to have sex with children.

Last year, a Russian police investigation into a pornography ring that distributed child sex videos via the Internet helped U.S. law enforcement officials arrest four U.S. nationals, including an Indiana man who had traveled to Moscow to have sex with young boys.

The Russian officers in charge of the case, called Operation Blue Orchid after the name of the pornographers' web site, lamented at the time that existing legislation did not allow them to arrest the American because the boy he had propositioned was 14.