ECPAT UK delivers evidence to Child Sexual Abuse inquiry on failures to protect children abroad
In 2014, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was established due to serious concerns that some organisations had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse, particularly in light of many high profile cases.
A recent investigation made public evidence of institutional failures to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse by UK citizens abroad allowing offenders to operate with impunity. In 2013, the UK legislated the Sexual Offences Act 2013 which allows courts to prosecute UK nationals for sexual offences against children committed abroad. The inquiry is now also investigating the efficacy of these legal measures as well as two civil orders that allow England and Wales to restrict the movements of convicted sex offenders who pose a risk to children in the UK and abroad.
Several organisations including ECPAT UK delivered evidence to the inquiry including:
- Widespread lack of awareness and lack of use of these civil orders and extra-territorial jurisdictional measures among UK authorities and NGOs abroad
- Between 2017 and 2018, 5,551 individuals were convicted or cautioned for sexual abuse offences in the UK, but only 11 had foreign travel restrictions imposed
- Since the introduction of the new civil orders three years ago, 15,355 individuals received a Sexual Harm Prevention Order but only 27 had foreign travel restrictions imposed (less than 2 in every 1,000 convicted or cautioned)
- Since the introduction of extra-territorial jurisdiction in respect of sexual abuse abroad in 2004, only seven child sex offenders were reported to have been extradited from the country where they offended and prosecuted in the UK
- Between 2013 and 2017, 361 UK nationals sought consular assistance following being arrested for child sex offences abroad, yet it is not known if these offenders were brought to justice either locally or in the UK.
ECPAT UK has found cases of offender deliberately targeting countries with high levels of poverty and inequality and weaker child protection systems where children are far more vulnerable. These children, some as young as six-month old are left with little access to justice, support or compensation. ECPAT UK highlights the UK’s lack of national coordination between agencies on sex offender management and prosecution for offences abroad as a clear factor in leaving children vulnerable. This and lack of data including gaps in availability of numbers of order for foreign travel traditions and prosecutions, has made it difficult to properly assess the effectiveness of prevention tools.
Bharti Patel, CEO of ECPAT UK, said:
‘What was clear and concerning to us is that despite existing legislation in the UK and tools to combat the sexual abuse of children both in the UK and abroad, this catalogue of evidence shows children abroad are still being abused by UK nationals. Clearly legislation can only be useful if it is applied appropriately.
‘For too long, this issue has been neglected and offenders allowed to commit this form of child exploitation with impunity. We hope the momentum on addressing this issue is not lost and that the Inquiry makes specific, practical recommendations that have tangible results to improve the protection of some of the world’s most vulnerable children.’
See the recommendations of the Global Study on Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism here.