The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has published its report on the protection of children outside the UK, focusing on the legal measures designed to prevent British offenders sexually abusing children abroad. The report finds that offenders from England and Wales are travelling to commit extensive abuse of children across the world, including in eastern Asia and Africa. It concludes that civil orders are not being used effectively to stop offenders visiting other countries where poverty and corruption have left children vulnerable.

The Inquiry found that civil orders placed on sex offenders rarely include travel restrictions, meaning many known offenders can still go abroad to abuse children. High profile cases have highlighted these issues, including Paul Gadd (aka Gary Glitter) who went to Asia to abuse young girls after being convicted of possessing indecent images of children in the UK.

As of 31 March 2018, only around 0.2 percent of the 58,637 registered sex offenders in England and Wales had their foreign travel restricted. 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 such a restriction.

The report finds that 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. Furthermore, the report states there is a need for increased 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.

During this investigation the Inquiry heard how abusers often establish trust with vulnerable children and families by masquerading as philanthropists and providing money. Disaster areas can also pose a particular risk of sexual abuse for children. For example, it was reported that Oxfam staff sexually exploited children in Haiti following an earthquake in 2010.

Some abusers operate in sophisticated 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 such a network.

The Inquiry also heard that 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 makes the following five recommendations to government:-

  1. National plan of action – The Home Office to coordinate this, addressing child sexual abuse and exploitation overseas by UK nationals and residents of England and Wales, involving input from all lead government agencies in the field.
  2. Civil Orders – List of Countries – The Home Office to 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 should then be kept under regular review and be made readily available to the Police. The list should be admissible in Court and used when considering whether a foreign travel restriction order should be made under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and if so, which countries should it apply.
  3. 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.
  4. Disclosure and barring – extending the mandatory nature of disclosure and barring. – The Home Office should introduce legislation making it mandatory for: –
    1. 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
    2. UK government departments and agencies to require their overseas partners to ensure that UK nations 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.
  5. 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.

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