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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children Outside the United Kingdom Phase 2 Investigation Report

Executive Summary

The full scale of the sexual abuse of children by UK nationals and residents outside of the UK is unknown but it is extensive. Between 2013 and 2017, 361 UK nationals requested consular assistance abroad after being arrested for child sex offences, 78 of which were in 2017. British offenders figure highly in prevalence surveys and there have been numerous convictions. Inevitably, these represent a fraction of the numbers of offenders and offences. Moreover, sexual abuse of children abroad does not have to take place abroad. It has been estimated that some 80,000 people in the UK may present a sexual threat to children online, increasingly through live-streaming. This activity targets the poorest and most vulnerable children in many parts of the world.

This investigation focusses on three forms of response by institutions in England and Wales to the sexual abuse of children outside the UK.

The first concerns the use of civil orders, which can be used to restrict foreign travel. Since March 2015, two such orders have been available. A sexual harm prevention order (SHPO) may be made following a conviction for a sexual offence. A sexual risk order (SRO) may be made in cases where there has not been a conviction. Both orders may include restrictions on travelling abroad should this be necessary to protect children or vulnerable adults from sexual harm. In practice, such travel restrictions are rarely imposed. Only 11 of the 5,551 SHPOs made in 2017/18 and six of the SROs in force in March 2019 did so. As a result, many known sex offenders may be able to travel to parts of the world where they can sexually abuse children. Where travel restrictions are imposed which only apply to limited countries, they can often be circumvented by travelling through third countries. Greater use should be made of the civil orders regime in order to reduce further the risks posed by sex offenders travelling overseas from England and Wales.

The second response examined by this investigation concerns the prosecution in England and Wales of UK nationals and residents who sexually abuse children whilst abroad. Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (and its precursor) extends the jurisdiction of domestic courts to permit this. There appear to have been eight successful such prosecutions since 1997. One example was Keith Morris, who was sentenced to 18.5 years’ imprisonment for 10 sexual offences against vulnerable children in Kenya and two counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice. Another concerns Mark Frost, who was sentenced to 13 terms of life imprisonment having pleaded guilty to 45 offences against boys in Thailand. Once again, it may be that section 72 is underused. While in principle prosecutions ought to take place in the country in which the offence occurred, there are numerous instances where a prosecution in England and Wales can and should take place. It ought not to be considered a matter of ‘last resort’, given that the quality of local justice may be suspect. There is a need for increased awareness of section 72 by police forces in England and Wales, to be achieved through guidance and training. There is also a need to ensure effective cooperation between law enforcement agencies internationally. This requires an adequate number of international liaison officers able to work effectively with international partners in high-risk countries.

The third response examined concerns the operation of disclosure and barring regimes, the purpose of which is to enable employers to make safer recruitment decisions and help prevent those who pose a risk to children from working with them. Agencies based in England and Wales which recruit staff in England and Wales to work with children overseas are obliged to undertake Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks. Institutions which are based overseas cannot request a DBS check when recruiting British nationals but may request an International Child Protection Certificate (ICPC) if they wish. Neither a DBS certificate nor an ICPC will necessarily contain information concerning offending which has taken place outside of the UK. Moreover, there are some discrepancies between the information which the two certificates contain. The system is confusing, inconsistent and can be exploited by those who wish to sexually abuse children abroad. It needs to be reformed.

The Inquiry experienced some difficulties in accessing comprehensive statistics concerning the use of travel restrictions and section 72 prosecutions.

Each of these regimes is therefore limited in its effectiveness. The gaps in these regimes operate, in some cases together, to enable offenders to perpetrate sexual abuse and exploitation overseas. This is symptomatic of a general lack of focus on this aspect of child protection.

We have made several recommendations aimed at providing a more coherent national strategy on these issues, making better use of the travel restriction regime, and enhancing the Disclosure and Barring Service scheme by extending its geographical reach to work with children overseas and making it mandatory in certain circumstances.

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