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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children Outside the United Kingdom Phase 2 Investigation Report

A.2: The nature and scale of allegations of child sexual abuse overseas

The nature of the abuse

6. The Inquiry heard evidence of child sexual abuse and exploitation in a large number of countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Malaysia, India, the Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar. We were told about foreign nationals travelling overseas specifically to sexually abuse children.

7. Child sexual abuse overseas often involves the use of tourism-related accommodation, transportation and other services which facilitate contact with children and enable the abuser to remain inconspicuous. There may be a locally based trafficker who will assist, such as by arranging accommodation and enabling the abuser to visit remote areas.

8. Poverty and corruption in many countries leaves children vulnerable. Abusers (whether foreign nationals[1] or local) often target poor children who may already be sexually exploited. They also target poor families where family members or other third parties are willing to act as facilitators. In those cases, the disparity between the financial position of the abuser and the victim and their family is a key factor. Abusers establish trust with vulnerable children and families by masquerading as philanthropists by providing money and subsistence, before sexually abusing the children.

9. Where abusers ‘put down roots’ in a particular country, they are better able to exploit victims in institutional care, education establishments, charities or religious groups. We were also told about a particular offending pattern where an individual sets up a shelter, orphanage or school, perhaps with other volunteers, specifically to create an opportunity for the sexual abuse of children.[2]

10. Child sexual abuse and exploitation are often linked with child trafficking. Children are treated as objects, trafficked from location to location, kept in conditions of sexual slavery and subjected to torture.[3]

11. The increasing use of the internet, including through the use of low-cost live-streaming services that can cost less than £1, substantially adds to these risks. The NCA has also observed an increase in the severity of offending involving sexual abuse images, particularly on the “dark web”.[4] Online and “contact” abuse and exploitation also often overlaps. For example, abusers may first interact with children online and then travel to the country in question to abuse them in person. Travelling offenders may also take videos and photographs of the abuse.

12. These elements combine to create an illicit market in child trafficking, live-streaming of abuse and exploitation tourism involving local and foreign offenders.[5]

13. Some abusers operate in sophisticated networks, for example by sharing tips and strategies to avoid detection, such as information about legal frameworks and areas which have active law enforcement or non-governmental organisations (NGOs) focussing on crimes against children. They also share information about what to do if caught, including the amount of money they can expect to pay to “bribe their way out of it”.[6]

14. Disaster areas can pose a particular risk of sexual abuse for children.

14.1. In February 2018, it was reported that, in Haiti in 2010, Oxfam staff had sexually exploited children. Additional allegations were made about Oxfam GB’s Country Director in Haiti, including that he had been allowed to resign. Subsequently a different allegation arose about the conduct of Oxfam staff in the Philippines in 2013. This also alleged sexual misconduct. As a result, in February 2018, the Charity Commission opened an inquiry into the charity. Its report was published in June 2019, finding that the charity repeatedly fell below expected safeguarding standards, had a culture of tolerating poor behaviour and failed to meet commitments on safeguarding.[7]

14.2. After Typhoon Haiyan devastated part of the Philippines in 2013, many foreign NGOs came to assist with disaster relief. Concerns were expressed that children were disappearing; the suggestion was that there was a direct correlation between disaster relief and child trafficking.[8]

The scale of the abuse

15. The true scale of child sexual abuse overseas by foreign nationals and residents is unknown.[9] The victims and survivors of child sexual abuse overseas were described by ECPAT (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking) as “off the radar”.[10]

16. Some have estimated that US$36.6 billion is made from child sexual exploitation and that around 2 million children in Southeast Asia are affected.[11] The Inquiry heard that there are thought to be at least 100,000 children in the sex “industry” in the Philippines alone.[12] The NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (NCA-CEOP) considers that abusers are highly likely to operate in a wider range of countries than official data indicate.[13] It estimates that around 80,000 people in the UK present some kind of sexual threat online to children both in England and Wales and abroad.[14]

17. Similarly, the potential involvement of British individuals in child sexual abuse overseas is difficult to quantify. As at March 2018, there were 58,637 registered sex offenders in England and Wales who were subject to requirements to notify the authorities of an intention to travel.[15] When Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE) reviewed the nationalities of sex offenders on its database in Cambodia, Britain was one of the countries disproportionately highly represented. British offenders amounted to 6.3 percent of those on the database, the fourth largest group by nationality.[16] Significant numbers of British nationals also request consular assistance after having been arrested for child sex offences; there were 361 such requests between 2013 and 2017.[17]

Arrest / Detention - Child sex

Number of British nationals requesting consular assistance abroad having been arrested for child sexual offences (2018): child sex

Arrest / Detention - Child pornography

Number of British nationals requesting consular assistance abroad having been arrested for child sexual offences (2018): ‘child pornography’


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