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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children Outside the United Kingdom Phase 2 Investigation Report

F.1: Conclusions

1. Large numbers of adults around the world travel overseas and sexually abuse and exploit vulnerable children. This includes significant numbers of UK nationals and residents. Each of the three legislative frameworks examined in this phase of our investigation has the potential to reduce the risk of sexual abuse and exploitation of children overseas by nationals and residents of England and Wales. Yet it is clear that the effectiveness of each has limits in practice.

2. In 2001, at the time of the Yokohama Conference, the UK drew up a national action plan to prevent the commercial sexual exploitation of children overseas which has not subsequently been revisited or revised.[1]

3. While the Inquiry heard extensive evidence of the range of initiatives being adopted by different government departments, these would benefit from being more integrated. The UK Government has strategies in place to tackle issues such as child sexual exploitation within the UK, human trafficking and terrorism.[2] The risks posed by UK nationals and residents of England and Wales engaging in child sexual abuse and exploitation overseas should be similarly addressed. A national action plan would help ensure a coordinated response on the issue and also raise public awareness.

Conclusions in relation to civil orders

4. The number of orders restricting the foreign travel of sex offenders made under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 appears low every year. Of the 5,551 sexual harm prevention orders imposed in England and Wales in 2017/18, foreign travel restrictions were imposed in just 11 cases. Based on the available data, only around 0.2 percent of registered sex offenders typically have their travel restricted under a civil order.

5. Given the significant disparity between the high number of registered sex offenders and the low number of orders made, it is a reasonable inference that there are more registered sex offenders whose travel could properly be restricted.

6. Concerns about the proportionality of restricting an offender’s travel appear to be a key reason why the number of orders made is as low as it is.

7. There is ample scope for greater use of foreign travel restriction orders.

8. Adopting the civil standard of proof or permitting reliance on closed evidence would be unlikely to lead to a substantial increase in the number of orders being made, even if concerns about the cost and procedural fairness of closed hearings could be justified.

9. More radical measures must therefore be taken to increase the number of foreign travel restriction orders made, while recognising the human rights of all concerned.

10. The European Commission maintains lists of countries that pose a significant risk in terms of money laundering. Companies and other entities are required to undertake enhanced checks on financial dealings with customers and financial institutions from the listed high-risk countries.[3] A similar approach could be taken in this context. If a list of countries where children face a significant risk of sexual abuse from overseas offenders were maintained, this could be used to further reduce the risk they face.

Conclusions in relation to section 72

11. Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (which allows individuals to be prosecuted in the UK for offences overseas) is also relatively rarely used. The Inquiry heard evidence of only seven concluded prosecutions under section 72 in England and Wales between 1997 and 2018, which equates to one prosecution every three years.[4]

12. There are various reasons for the low numbers of section 72 prosecutions. One is the ‘first country first’ principle. While in theory 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. Another concern has been the suggestion that section 72 should only be used as a ‘last resort’. While previous policy guidance suggesting a ‘last resort’ approach may have contributed to a misleading impression of the approach to section 72, in reality there is no last resort policy in operation. There should not be such an approach. Section 72 prosecutions should be initiated in appropriate cases, particularly where the quality of local justice may be suspect.

13. Section 72 investigations are undoubtedly resource-intensive. There is 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 NCA is taking steps to ensure that this is the case.

14. There is a need for increased awareness of section 72 by police forces in England and Wales, to be achieved through guidance and training. Chief Constable Michelle Skeer committed to include further information about section 72 in the College of Policing’s Authorised Professional Practice material, which is national guidance given to all police forces.[5] That process was commenced following our hearing and we are aware that a further training event has taken place.[6]

Conclusions in relation to disclosure and barring

15. The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) scheme applies if an institution’s operations are based in England and Wales, and if the employment decision is made in England and Wales. However, DBS checks include no or limited information about overseas offending. This means they cannot be fully relied upon for those who have regularly worked with children abroad. The same applies to International Child Protection Certificate (ICPC) checks. This creates a clear risk to children overseas as it means that pre-employment checks are not being conducted with all the relevant information to hand. It means that someone with a conviction overseas for sexual abuse of a child could obtain work in the future with access to children.

16. There are various inconsistencies between the ICPC and DBS schemes. This creates a lack of clarity for employers. Smaller organisations overseas can lack the resources to carry out full employment vetting. Charity Commission guidance to overseas institutions cannot be enforced. Reliance cannot be placed on other countries’ disclosure and barring regimes to fill these gaps.

17. DBS checks cannot be obtained by institutions based in England and Wales when they make recruitment decisions overseas, or by employers based overseas. They may choose to ensure compliance with the ICPC scheme but at present this is entirely voluntary.

18. The combined effect of these limitations in the system has damaging consequences. It permits offenders to exploit the system and sexually abuse children overseas. The system should be simplified and made more robust, including by extending the geographical reach of the existing Disclosure and Barring Service scheme and making it mandatory in certain circumstances.


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