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Inquiry report finds gaps in UK legal system are allowing known offenders to sexually abuse children abroad

9 January 2020

The Inquiry has published its report on the protection of children outside the UK, focusing on the legal measures designed to prevent British child sex abusers from offending overseas.

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.

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.

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.

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 five recommendations to government, including measures aimed at restricting the foreign travel of sex offenders more often, substantially extending the reach of the Disclosure and Barring Service to overseas and the introduction of a national plan of action.

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.

“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.”

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