BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved plans to reduce a one-year minimum sentence for spreading child sexual abuse images, changing a rule that was introduced less than three years ago but officials say has proven to be too inflexible in practice.

German law currently stipulates that a person who “disseminates child pornographic content or makes it available to the general public” is punished with a prison sentence of between one and 10 years. Before the reform by Germany’s previous government that took effect in July 2021, it provided for sentences ranging from three months to five years.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said the upper limit will stay in place, but the new minimum sentence has resulted in “numerous problems in practice.”

“In particular, people who receive such material involuntarily — for example in the context of a WhatsApp parents’ group — risk a minimum sentence of one year,” Buschmann said in a statement. The same, he added, also applies “in the case of teachers who have discovered child pornographic material on students’ cellphones and have forwarded it to alert the affected parents.”

The new legislation, which still needs parliamentary approval, will cut the minimum sentence back to six months. Buschmann said it will restore the ability of courts and prosecutors “to be able to react flexibly and proportionately to each individual case,” and that investigators, courts and state-level justice ministers had pushed for the change.

Under German law, offenses carrying a sentence of a year or more are counted as a felony, while offenses under that limit count as misdemeanors.

The new legislation will restore authorities’ ability to close cases at the lower end of punishability. It states that the possibility to class offenses as misdemeanors also is necessary to deal with “the large proportion of young offenders with the necessary flexibility,” given that those culprits tend to act out of “inexperience, curiosity, thirst for adventure or striving to impress” rather than out of sexual motives.

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