There are very strict rules concerning the photography or filming of children. Professional photographers, studios, model agencies and casting services must take particular care when handling images of children. This guidance is intended for persons working in legitimate industry and not for persons engaged in or attracted to paedophilia.

  • It is an offence to take, make, show, distribute or possess with a view to distributing any indecent photographs of a person under 18 years of age
  • It is also an offence to advertise any services for taking indecent photographs of a person under 18 years of age
  • It is an offence to make an indecent pseudo image of a person under the age of 18, such as a tracing or recreated computer image (anime)

The penalty for these offences is an unlimited fine or a term of imprisonment of up to 10 years or both. In addition to the penalties, offenders are liable to be placed on the sex offenders register and be subject to ongoing monitoring after release from any term of imprisonment.

A parent cannot give consent for an indecent image of their child to be taken. In addition, the child cannot give consent for an indecent image to be taken of themselves. If a child does take an indecent image of themselves and sends it to the photographer, studio or agency, then you must have procedures in place to ensure that such images are immediately and permanently deleted from your systems. You are not permitted to distribute or share them with any other person (including internally within your company) except for the Police.

There are three broad categories of indecent imagery of children set out by the Sentencing Advisory Panel. They are all regarded as indecent, but the level of penalty will vary depending upon the categorisation. The Director of Public Prosecutions (who must give their consent to prosecutions for indecent images of children) has set out detailed guidelines for prosecutors.

The categorisation, which came into force on 1st April 2014, is linked to the COPINE scale for indecent imagery:

Category A - These are the most serious offences

Images involving penetrative sexual activity and/or images involving sexual activity with an animal or sadism

These include:

  • Pictures of children being subject to a sexual assault, involving digital touching, involving an adult. (COPINE Scale 8)
  • Grossly obscene pictures of sexual assault, involving penetrative sex, masturbation or oral sex, involving an adult. (COPINE Scale 9)
  • Pictures showing a child being tied, bound, beaten, whipped or otherwise subject to something that implies pain. (COPINE Scale 10)
  • Pictures where an animal is involved in some form of sexual behaviour with a child (COPINE Scale 10)

Category B - These remain serious offences, but are not as serious as those in category A

Images involving non-penetrative sexual activity

These include:

  • Pictures emphasising genital areas, where the child is either naked, partially clothed or fully clothed. (COPINE Scale 6)
  • Pictures that depict touching, mutual and self-masturbation, oral sex and intercourse by a child, not involving an adult. (COPINE Scale 7)

Category C - These are still offences and may typically be the kind of photographs taken for a modelling portfolio. They would still be illegal if they depict a person under 18 years of age.

Other indecent images not falling within categories A or B

These include:

  • Surreptitiously taken photographs of children in play areas or other safe environments showing either underwear or varying degrees of nakedness (COPINE Scale 3)
  • Deliberately posed pictures of children fully clothed, partially clothed or naked (where the amount, context and organisation suggests sexual interest). (COPINE Scale 4)
  • Deliberately posed pictures of fully, partially clothed or naked children in sexualised or provocative poses. (COPINE Scale 5)

Images that are not considered to be indecent

The following types of images of children are not considered to be indecent, but photographers and film-makers are strongly advised to take particular care when filming persons under the age of 18.

  • Non-erotic and non-sexualised pictures showing children in their underwear, swimming costumes from either commercial sources or family albums. Pictures of children playing in normal settings, and from legitimate sources. (COPINE Scale 1)
  • Pictures of naked or semi-naked children in appropriate nudist settings, and from legitimate sources. (COPINE Scale 2)

It is a question for a jury to determine which category an image falls into, it is not a question of whether or not the photographer thought or intended them to be indecent or not.