Sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism campaign

Background

The sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism occurs all over the world and is a problem growing in scale and complexity. The increasing sophistication of new technologies, particularly the Internet and mobile devices, cheaper air travel, visa-free travel and the opening up of borders and more remote regions of the world are making it more challenging for governments and law enforcement bodies to trace, monitor, arrest and successfully prosecute those responsible.

The profile of child sex offenders is also evolving. While much of the sexual exploitation of children abroad is still carried out by locals, more and more travelling sex offenders, particularly from developed countries, are using different ways to gain access to vulnerable children.

Read our December 2012 discussion paper on British Child Sex Offenders Abroad.

ECPAT UK concerns

ECPAT UK has been working to end the sexual exploitation of children overseas by British nationals for 20 years and we have documented over 130 cases of Britons accused of such crimes during this period.

Despite some notable efforts on the part of individual police forces and the fact that the UK has sophisticated mechanisms in place to prevent, invesigate and prosecute British nationals committing sexual offences against children abroad, including extra-territorial legislation, problems remain. ECPAT UK has identified a lack of effective data collection and sharing about known offenders in the UK or with international authorities. We are also very concerned about the fact that there is a lack of knowledge about and implementation of the legislative tools in place to prevent offenders from travelling overseas.

The approach of UK law enforcement to date has largely focused on the monitoring of known and registered sex offenders who abscond from the UK and are brought back under extradition agreements. However, many sex offenders who abuse children abroad have no previous convictions in the UK and are therefore not on the Violent and Sex Offenders Register (ViSOR). It is these individuals who fall off the radar. In some cases, offenders who have abused children abroad have repeatedly travelled from the UK to overseas destinations undetected. ECPAT UK is extremely concerned that this places all children, both abroad and in the UK, at risk of abuse.

History of ECPAT UK campaigning

ECPAT UK was originally established in 1993 as The Coalition Against Child Prostitution in Tourism to campaign against commercial sexual exploitation of children in tourism and to lobby for laws and policies to protect children and prosecute offenders. In 1997, as a result of these campaigns the UK Government introduced new legislation, specifically extra-territorial law, to prosecute UK nationals for abusing children abroad.

Nearly 10 years later, despite such improvements in legislation, ECPAT UK was concerned that the sexual exploitation of children by Britons abroad was still happening and that the UK was failing to protect children and prosecute the offenders. In 2006, we published our report The End of the Line for Child Exploitation: Safeguarding the Most Vulnerable Children, which exposed gaps in UK legislation and policy and made recommendations for improvements.

Two years later, we revisited these issues in our 2008 report Return to Sender: British child sex offenders abroad – why more must be done showing that the UK response to child sex tourism still fell well short of our expectations.

In 2011, we published Off the Radar, which again highlighted ongoing weaknesses in policy and legislation and called for the Government to develop a cross-government strategy to deal effectively with the investigation and prosecution of child sexual offences committed abroad.

The report's other recommendations are as follows:

Recommendation 1: The UK should immediately ratify and implement the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse.

Recommendation 2: The Home Secretary should act immediately to close the ‘three-day loophole’ – referring to Section 86 of the Sexual Offences Act (2003) requiring registered sex offenders to notify of travel abroad. ECPAT UK recommends that all international travel must be notified, irrespective of the duration of the trip. SUCCESS! Read more here.

Recommendation 3
: The Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) should jointly convene a review of information sources so that a precise report of the numbers of British nationals who have been prosecuted abroad and in the UK for crimes committed abroad can be published

Recommendation 4
: The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) must improve its knowledge and practice in prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation committed overseas. The CPS should establish a review of the use and efficacy of Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act (2003); the UK extra-territorial law for the prosecution of  sexual offences. The Director of Public Prosecutions should report on action taken since his review following the 2010 case in Gloucestershire.

Recommendation 5
: Training on relevant legislation and investigation of international offences is needed across the UK, not only for police. A wide range of agencies should be made aware of key issues, including those responsible for customs, immigration, consular services, passport and visa offices and probation. In addition, a review of training for staff at bail hostels and prisons should be conducted so that early warning signs of offenders aiming to travel abroad can be identified.

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