A new report, published by ECPAT, exposes serious flaws in legislation protecting vulnerable children from British sex offenders who travel abroad.

It describes how some British sex offenders have gone to great lengths to set up orphanages or schools in poor countries in order to abuse children – and money to support these orphanages was raised in the UK.

Dozens of British nationals have been arrested or convicted abroad in the last five years for the sexual abuse of children. 

Christine Beddoe, director of ECPAT UK said: ‘There is an urgent need for a National Action Plan and new strategies to detect, disrupt, and prevent sex offenders from travelling abroad and escaping justice. We need better coordination between countries and increased cooperation with governments, police and child support organisations. Hundreds of the world’s poorest children have been sexually abused by British nationals in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America.

‘One of the misconceptions legislators had at the time was that it only happened in far-flung places like Thailand and the Philippines… They did not understand that it’s not just taking place in a handful of countries. It is an international problem that can affect every country, even those closest to home.’

ECPAT UK is calling on the government to address the issue by bringing in legislation that would prevent offenders from travelling abroad. At present a loophole allows sex offenders to go abroad for up to three days without notifying police. As the report notes:

‘With the increase of cheap air travel to many locations in Europe and particularly vulnerable communities in central and eastern Europe, British sex offenders can easily access these destinations in under three days.’

Detective superintendent Alastair Jeffrey, from the Metropolitan Police Child Abuse Investigation Command, commented: ‘Legislation is available to investigate and prosecute offenders who have travelled abroad to commit child abuse, and this should act as a stark warning and deterrent to anyone considering taking part in this type of criminality. The Metropolitan Police are committed to preventing child abuse in all its guises wherever it occurs and will continue to use all available powers to bring those committing these dreadful crimes to justice.’

The report cites a recent case of a British national who at the time of his death had lived in Thailand for many years, avoiding serious allegations of child sexual abuse in the UK. Police believe he had abused at least 300 children in Thailand in this time.

The anti-child sex abuse campaign End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT UK), is formed by UK charities such as Barnardo’s, Anti-Slavery International, UNICEF UK, NSPCC and Save the Children and is the UK branch of an international network of organisations in over 70 countries.

What is ECPAT?

ECPAT UK stands for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes. In particular, ECPAT focuses on the protection of trafficked children and children exploited in tourism and the prevention of such crimes. The organisation:

  • campaigns for children’s rights and the measures to protect them.
  • encourages UK citizens, organisations and the government to take action to protect such children
  • works with the media to increase public awareness of child sex tourism
  • conducts research and develops training and campaigning materials
  • offers training throughout the UK and internationally on the protection of children in tourism and the protection of child victims of trafficking
  • works with children’s rights organisations, child protection agencies, communities and government to identify strategies to combat child trafficking and the exploitation of children in tourism
  • works in partnership with various organisations to build a common understanding and enhance expertise on protecting children from commercial sexual exploitation in the UK and internationally.

The End of the Line for Child Exploitation: Safeguarding the Most Vulnerable Children report is available from ECPAT. Tel: 020 7233 9887

This article first appeared in Protecting Children Update – October 2006