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Virtual child porn may be a crime in Netherlands

As virtual worlds thrive, lawmakers fear people may carry out activities considered illegal in the real world.

Virtual enactments of child pornography may be a crime under Dutch law if it encourages child abuse, the public prosecutor said Wednesday.

In the virtual world of Second Life, a popular Internet destination, everyone under the age of 18 is supposed to be limited to a "teen grid."

However, it would be relatively easy for children to get onto the adult grid if they wished since there is no proof of age required.

In the adult section, some users participate in "age play," in which adult users can create child-like characters and have virtual sex that would be illegal in the real world.

"There are possibilities to prosecute because it possibly incites child abuse," said Kitty Nooij, the spokesman for public prosecutor, who is in charge of national vice cases.

With the increasing popularity of virtual worlds, there are fears people may turn to them to carry out activities considered illegal in the real world.

There is no Dutch case law about virtual child pornography in writing, drawings or computer animation.

In the United States, where Second Life creator Linden Lab is based, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law in 2002 which would ban computer-generated images that depict minors engaged in sexual conduct.

Citizens who commit Internet crimes can be prosecuted in the country where they commit the offense under local laws.

Second Life has several hundred thousand regular users, although only a maximum of about 30,000 are logged in at any given time.

A majority of Second Life residents are from Europe, with about 35 percent from the United States.