It has emerged that teenagers who indulge in sending sexually explicit images of themselves or others, could end up facing a jail sentence under laws designed to punish child sex offenders.
Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor wants adult child sex predators to spend more time behind bars but has not ruled out applying tougher penalties to youth who engage in "sexting", using the internet or mobile phones to send nude or sexual photographs.
Amendments to the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Offences Against Children) Bill, which will be scrutinised by a Senate committee inquiry, increases from 10 to 15 years' jail the penalty for the offence of sending child pornography.
A recent survey in an Australian teen magazine revealed 40 per cent of readers had been asked to send a naked or semi-naked image of themselves over the internet.
It has sparked the Australian Privacy Foundation to lobby O'Connor to rule out charging youth for sexting, and not follow US moves, where prosecutors want to charge a teenager with child pornography offences for appearing topless in a text message.
"Several problems emerge from lumping sexting teens into the same category as depraved criminals who inflict harm on minors," News.com.au quoted the foundation as saying in a submission to the inquiry.
"The most obvious (being) teenagers engaged in sexting are not knowingly harming minors in the same way that traditional child pornographers do," it stated.
O'Connor said Australia's laws were intended to protect children and target adult offenders.
"They are not designed to deal with interactions between young people, such as sexting," O'Connor said.
"Instances of young people sending sexually explicit images of themselves and of other young people may in some cases be malicious or exploitative," he added.
The types of images that fall within the definition of child pornography include those where a person under 18 is in a sexual pose or sexual activity, or "that have as their dominant characteristic the depiction of a sexual organ of a person under 18 and which reasonable persons would regard as being... offensive".