ECPAT UK is urgently calling for better protection for children abroad from British sex offenders, following the trial of Kent man, Richard Huckle, who investigators believe abused hundreds of children, mostly those from poor communities in Malaysia.

Richard Huckle, 30, admitted 71 child sex offence charges committed against victims aged between six months and 12 years old between 2006 and 2014, which involved the abuse of 23 children in Kuala Lumpur. More than 20,000 child abuse images were found on his computer. 

Huckle, who first visited Malaysia whilst teaching on a gap year, groomed children whilst doing voluntary work. He boasted in online discussions on the ‘dark web’ that: “Impoverished kids are definitely much easier to seduce than middle-class Western kids.”

He had also compiled a 60-page ‘manual’ entitled: ‘Paedophiles and Poverty: Child Love Guide on how to select deprived victims and avoid detection.’

ECPAT UK, which has campaigned for more than two decades to end transnational child sexual abuse, today welcomed the news of his conviction under the rarely used extra-territorial legislation, Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which allows UK nationals to be charged, tried and prosecuted in the UK for sexual offences committed overseas – a provision in law that ECPAT UK campaigned to secure in 2003.

The charity warned that this case was not a one-off and that a significant number of British nationals were deliberately targeting children overseas in order to take advantage of less robust child protection systems and abuse the vulnerability of poorer families and their children.

Bharti Patel, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: “The sad truth is that there are many hundreds of British nationals, some of whom are convicted sex offenders, who continue to travel to countries and use their ‘Western’ status to get jobs and groom vulnerable children and families.

“It is simply unacceptable that Huckle was able to abuse children over a nine-year period whilst doing voluntary work in Malaysia and, in that time, amass more than 20,000 images of child abuse. The legacy of his abuse will mean his victims face a life of great physical and psychological harm. In our experience, in most cases child victims abroad are left without the vital protection and support they need to help recover from such horrendous experiences, even when convictions have been secured.

“It is time the UK Government woke up to the scale and severity of British nationals travelling overseas to seek out children. Cases such as this show why we cannot turn a blind eye just because the exploitation happens elsewhere. These are UK citizens and we owe it to the children who have suffered to take responsibility and take action.”

ECPAT UK has documented over 300 cases of British nationals abusing children in countries including Kenya, India, Cambodia and the Philippines. In 2015, an FOI to the Foreign Commonwealth Office revealed that 154 British national were detained overseas for child sex offences.

The charity is calling on the UK Government to do more to protect children outside the UK from sexual abuse by British nationals travelling, working or residing abroad by adequately monitoring and managing child sex offenders, strengthening reporting mechanisms and resourcing cross-border investigative capacities in regions of high incidences of abuse.

In addition, ECPAT UK is calling on the government to introduce a financial order against the perpetrators of online child abuse to hold offenders financially accountable for the harm caused to allow victims, both in the UK and abroad, to claim compensation to help in their recovery, rehabilitation and social reintegration.