Gap in UK legal system allows sex offenders to prey on children abroad

Sex offenders from England and Wales are travelling abroad to abuse children as a result of gaps in the UK’s legal system, research by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has found.

Offenders from England and Wales are travelling to commit extensive abuse of children across the world, including in eastern Asia and Africa, the research has found.

Chair of the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay OBE, said: “The sexual abuse of children overseas by UK nationals is an urgent problem which must be addressed.

“Current gaps in our legal system are allowing known offenders to travel abroad to target vulnerable children in less developed countries, and this is simply not acceptable,” she added.

The research found that civil orders are not being used effectively to stop offenders visiting other countries where poverty and corruption have left children vulnerable. Civil orders placed on sex offenders rarely include travel restrictions, meaning many known offenders can still go abroad to abuse children.

The issue was highlighted with the high profile case of Paul Gadd, known as Gary Glitter, who went to Asia to abuse young girls after being convicted of possessing indecent images of children in the UK.

Abusers often preyed on vulnerable children and families, masquerading as philanthropists and providing money to establish trust. There is also a risk of sexual abuse to children during disasters, for example, it was reported that Oxfam staff sexually exploited children in Haiti following an earthquake in 2010.

Only around 0.2 percent of the 58,637 registered sex offenders in England and Wales had their foreign travel restricted as of 31 March 2018. Very small numbers of civil orders restricting travel are made: only 11 Sexual Harm Prevention Orders to this effect were made in 2017/2018 and as at March 2019 there were only six Sexual Risk Orders in place with a restriction in place about travel.

The disclosure and barring system, including the International Child Protection Certificate which overseas institutions can request when recruiting British nationals, is confusing, inconsistent and in need of reform, the research adds.

The IICSA also calls for greater awareness among police forces of Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which allows residents of England and Wales accused of sexually abusing children abroad to be prosecuted here.

Some abusers operate in networks which share tips and strategies to avoid detection. Richard Huckle, who was known in the press as ‘Britain’s worst paedophile’ after being convicted of 71 counts of serious sexual assaults while working in Malaysia, developed a network like this.

The National Crime Agency estimates some 80,000 people in the UK may present a sexual threat to children online, increasingly through live-streaming. The live-streaming of abuse, as well as exploitation tourism involving local and foreign offenders, are linked to illicit markets in child trafficking found in poorer parts of the world.

The report recommends:

A national plan of action. The Home Office should coordinate the development of a national plan of action addressing child sexual abuse and exploitation overseas by UK nationals and residents of England and Wales.

Civil orders – list of countries. The Home Office should bring forward legislation providing for the establishment and maintenance by the National Crime Agency of a list of countries where children are considered to be at high risk of sexual abuse and exploitation from overseas offenders. This list should be kept under regular review.

Disclosure and barring – extending the geographical reach of the Disclosure and Barring Service scheme. The Home Office should introduce legislation permitting the Disclosure and Barring Service to provide enhanced certificates to UK nationals and residents of England and Wales applying for (i) work or volunteering with UK-based organisations, where the recruitment decision is taken outside the UK or (ii) work or volunteering with organisations based outside the UK, in each case where the work or volunteering would be a regulated activity if in the UK.

Disclosure and barring – extending the mandatory nature of disclosure and barring. The Home Office should introduce legislation making it mandatory for: (a) all UK nationals and residents of England and Wales to provide a prospective employer overseas with an enhanced DBS certificate before undertaking work with children overseas which if in the UK would be a regulated activity and (b) UK government departments and agencies to require their overseas partners to ensure that UK nationals and residents of England and Wales obtain an enhanced DBS certificate before undertaking work with children overseas which if in the UK would be a regulated activity.

Disclosure and barring – guidance. The Home Office should ensure explanatory guidance is issued, providing clarity to recruiting organisations and individuals concerning the use of the Disclosure and Barring Service scheme for work and volunteering outside the UK.

Alexis Jay concluded: “The Panel and I hope this report and its recommendations will lead the authorities to tighten their grip on abusers who seek to exploit some of the most vulnerable children in the world.”

Children Outside the United Kingdom Phase 2

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