ECPAT releases latest country overview on Ireland

The latest ECPAT report highlights increasing strong improvements to child protection laws, but finds that growing social inequality and poverty is leaving children from marginalized groups increasingly vulnerable to sexual exploitation. This is particularly so for Roma, migrant, refugee and traveler communities.

“Social inequality in Ireland is putting some children at greater risk of sexual exploitation – with Roma, migrant, refugee and Traveller communities more adversely affected. When income inequality remains high, children from vulnerable and marginalised groups are often denied fundamental human rights, such as access to housing, which exposes them to higher vulnerability and to different forms of violence, including sexual exploitation.”

Legal frameworks and responses

Ireland has shown good progress in establishing strong legislative frameworks to protect children from sexual exploitation. In 2017 the Government of Ireland enacted the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 which criminalizes offences specially for the ‘purpose of sexual exploitation’.

For travel and tourism, the 2017 Act makes specific reference to travelling for the purposes of meeting with a child but only in connection with “having communicated by any means with that child on at least one previous occasion, and […] does so for the purpose of doing anything that would constitute sexual exploitation of the child”. The report recommends that since many travelling child sex offenders do not communicate in advance, that the 2017 Act be amended so as to not restrict the applicability of this provision. Also, in line with recent Australian legislation, there is reportedly a Sex Tourism Bill being brought forward by a Member of Parliament to amend the Sexual Offenders Act 2001, to “require any convicted pedophiles to receive a judge’s permission before they could leave the country”. In the Australian case, 857 pedophiles have been denied passports to travel abroad since the new legislation came into place in 2017.

The report also highlights strong international cooperation to respond to sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism crimes including a case involving a Canadian citizen who travelled twice to Ireland to sexually abuse a child. The offender was then identified and charged in his home country through collaboration between the Canadian Internet Child Exploitation Unit and the An Garda Síochána. The offender has recently been sentenced to imprisonment.

However, when it comes to data, the report finds little data and research on patterns and trends on SECTT for Ireland as a destination for travelling sex offenders however there is evidence of travelling child sex offenders taking advantage of cheap airfares and transport networks when travelling abroad.

Steps forward

Despite improvements for stronger legislation, Ireland is yet to ratify to Optional Protocol on the Convention of the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography as well as the European Council’s Lanzarote Convention. The Lanzarote Convention and the Optional Protocol as essential frameworks  address the sexual exploitation of children. The report emphasizes that although many of Ireland’s frameworks and policies do meet the minimum requirements of these conventions,  only full adoption of these conventions will bring Ireland further in protecting vulnerable children. For example, to protect children who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation in travel and tourism within Ireland, one step forward can come from closing the legal loophole for extradition of foreign offenders. Thus removing any opportunity for travelling child sex offenders to see Ireland as a destination of impunity.

“An amendment to the legislation to close this gap would bring Ireland closer to the OPSC and the Lanzarote Convention, which urge States to establish jurisdiction over SEC-related offences committed against a child national” finds the report.

The report highlights a positive involvement of the private sector in Ireland in preventing the sexual exploitation of children. The support and commitment of the private sectors sends a strong and wide message across a range of platforms that the sexual exploitation of children is not tolerated whilst also channeling funds to where it is needed the most. The report also commends the travel and tourism industry for their commitment to preventing the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism. There are currently twelve members, four of whom are Top Members with operations in Ireland who are of The Code and actively implement the six criteria.

Read the full report here.