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Children outside the United Kingdom

An inquiry into the extent to which institutions and organisations based in England and Wales have taken seriously their responsibilities to protect children outside the United Kingdom from sexual abuse. (This investigation is now complete.)

In recent years, grave allegations have emerged regarding child sexual abuse by individuals working for British institutions and organisations abroad.

This investigation looked at institutions based in England and Wales which recruit people to work abroad, including the Armed Forces, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Council and private companies and charitable organisations. It examined the extent to which such institutions have failed in their duty to protect children abroad by, for example, employing individuals who should not work with children.

We also investigated how effectively the UK justice system is equipped to address the potential for abuse overseas by those known to authorities in England and Wales as posing a risk to children. Further, we considered the adequacy of Whitehall responses to reports of institutional failures to protect children from sexual abuse in overseas territories.

Phase 1 - Child migration programmes

The Inquiry decided to divide this broad investigation into a number of narrower case studies. The first of these investigated institutional failings of organisations based in England and Wales relating to the sexual abuse of children involved in child migration programmes. 

Child migration programmes involved children being moved from care or from their families in England and Wales and placed in institutions or with families abroad by government departments, public authorities and private and/or charitable organisations in England and Wales.

For more details, see the Background statement.

Phase 2 - Children outside the United Kingdom

The second phase of this investigation investigated the adequacy of the civil framework for the prevention of, and notification to foreign authorities of, foreign travel by individuals known to the UK authorities as posing a risk to children. This framework includes the powers to make Foreign Travel Orders (FTOs) and Risk of Sexual Harm Orders (RSHOs) that were set out in the Sexual Offences Act 2003; as well as Sexual Harm Prevention Orders (SHPOs) and Sexual Risk Orders (SROs) provided for by the Anti-­Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Further details are provided in the COTU Investigation: March ​2018​ ​Update​ ​Note

Following the preliminary hearing held on 6 June 2018 and consideration of submissions received from core participants, the Chair decided to expand the scope of this phase of the investigation to include: issues relating to the use and efficacy of section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003; and issues related to the statutory vetting and barring regime. Further details about this are provided in the August 2018 Decision on Scope.

Next Steps:

This investigation has now finished.

The public hearing for the first phase of this investigation (Child migration programmes) concluded in July 2017. A report was published in March 2018 and is available here. Responses to recommendations made in this report can be found here.

The public hearing for the second phase of this investigation concluded in February 2019. A report was published in January 2020 and is available to read here. Responses to recommendations made in this report can be found here.

The Inquiry is encouraging all victims and survivors of child sexual abuse to share their experience with the Truth Project.

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