We have already reviewed the contents and emerging themes of IICSA’s, recently published, interim report. One particular point it made in relation to professional and political issues was the improvement that could be made by leaders in government and other institutions working with children in relation to protecting children, preventing and responding to child sexual abuse.
A specific recommendation was that the UK should ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse also known as ‘The Lanzarote Convention’ . It was drafted in 2007, and signed by the UK on 5 May 2008 but has not been ratified. Ratification of the Lanzarote Convention requires the party state to implement compliance within three months, subject to any reservations the state may make at the time of signing and confirm at ratification. Ireland is one of the other five outstanding signatory states yet to ratify.
The present UK government has recently confirmed that it does intend to ratify the convention and has formally begun the processes to do so.
The purposes of the convention are to:
- Prevent and combat sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children
- Protect the rights of child victims of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and
- Promote national and international co-operation against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children.
There are requirements of parties to ensure their states have preventative measures including the screening, recruitment and training of people working in contact with children, making children aware of the risks and teaching them to protect themselves, as well as monitoring measures for offenders and potential offenders. There is a requirement to establish programmes to support victims, to encourage people to report suspected sexual exploitation and abuse and to establish telephone and internet helplines for children.
In terms of substantive criminal law, the convention imposes obligations to criminalise, prosecute and punish multiple aspects of child sexual abuse and exploitation including the corruption and solicitation of children for sexual purposes. It also requires the signatory states to promote the appropriate policies for national and international co-operation against such crimes.
There are substantial aspects of domestic UK law that already comply with the principles of the convention and IICSA would seem to recognise this by setting a target date of June 2018 for full compliance. The interim report also recognises that the UK government has made significant efforts to tackle child sexual abuse at an international level but noted that international co-operation was becoming increasingly important in keeping children safe as those that want to abuse and exploit them do not recognise borders.
The convention establishes a specific monitoring mechanism – a committee of the parties to the convention. States will have to report via questionnaires (general and thematic) on how the convention obligations have been implemented at a national level.
As regards what effect Brexit will have, it is always open to non-member states of the Council of Europe to agree to be bound by the terms of one of their conventions and there is provision in the Lanzarote Convention for non-member states to be invited to accede. There is, of course, much yet to be decided in relation to the precise terms of the relationship the UK will have with European states after Brexit but child protection can surely only be seen as an area where maintaining close ties and co-operation is a positive step.
Authored by Sarah Firth, an associate with BLM