ECPAT UK today has welcomed the sentencing of Richard Fruin, a British national with previous convictions in the UK for the production of child abuse images, to two years in prison for the sexual abuse of children by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Cambodia.

According to the Daily Mail, Fruin was working as an English teacher at the Universal English School in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, when he was arrested with one of the boys at a guesthouse in the city. He was first charged on 30 October with sexual abuse of three boys under the age of 15.

In November 2013, ECPAT UK, a leading children’s rights charity, expressed dismay at the failure once again to prevent a convicted child sex abuser from leaving the UK to prey on vulnerable children.

Fruin, 36, from Gloucestershire, will now serve two years in jail and pay a £600 fine and £1,500 compensation to the victims’ family. Presiding Judge Kim Rathnarin said Fruin “will be deported from Cambodia after serving the jail term.”

The case has magnified ECPAT UK concerns about the efficacy of existing legislation to restrict the movement of persons who have been convicted of child sexual abuse in the past. In a 2013 review of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, ECPAT UK research found that the law routinely fails to prevent the sexual abuse of vulnerable children abroad by British nationals.

Fruin is not a first time offender. In 2005, he was charged by UK authorities with producing images of child abuse but fled the country while on bail. He was rearrested and served a one-year prison sentence on his return to the UK in 2012, after having spent seven years travelling through Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East. Upon release, Fruin evaded authorities to travel to Cambodia, where he was first arrested in October 2013 for further abuse of children. 

Despite the introduction of the International Child Protection Certificate (ICPC) in Cambodia in February this year by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), very little use is being made of this background checking mechanism. The ICPC procedure is specifically designed with the aim of preventing convicted child sex offenders in the UK from travelling abroad and gaining access to children through teaching or voluntary work.

Local NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE) has said that so far they have information of only one institution making an application under this procedure. The organisation further raised concerns regarding the effectiveness of the procedure, stating that child sex abusers would avoid institutions that required certificates, and would target the smaller institutions with more lax hiring mechanisms.

Whilst supporting the ICPC in principle as a useful tool in combating abuse of children abroad by known sex offenders, ECPAT UK has said that the mechanism is limiting in its reach. Under the certificate, offenders who do not have any prior convictions may evade detection and commit offences in other countries. Further, the mechanism is dependent on institutions abroad making use of the procedure, which often does not happen, particularly in smaller organisations that are targeted by sex offenders seeking access to children.

Bharti Patel, CEO, ECPAT UK, said: "There is an urgent need for stronger checks to be put in place in the UK before known sex offenders and those that may be a risk to children abroad are permitted to leave the UK. This case reinforces what we have long known: the UK must immediately improve its record against child sexual exploitation by British nationals in tourism."