Thursday, 9th January 2020 

Following a landmark Inquiry into the sexual abuse of children abroad by UK nationals which revealed systemic and procedural failures to prevent UK nationals from sexually exploiting children abroad, ECPAT UK welcomes the Inquiry’s report which includes many of our key recommendations. ECPAT UK now calls on the government to urgently implement these measures to ensure children abroad are protected from exploitation and abuse.

Having considered the evidence presented by law enforcement agencies, government institutions, victims and civil society organisations including ECPAT UK, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) investigation into the protection of children outside the UK has today released a report consisting of findings and practical recommendations to the government to ensure better protection for children everywhere from UK national offenders.

No national plan to protect children from abuse by British Nationals since 2001

Many British offenders are able to abuse children abroad due to the lack of coordinated response from agencies such as Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the National Crime Agency (NCA). The lack of coordination and communication between these agencies means that many offenders walk free and victims have no access to justice.

In response to this, the Inquiry echoed ECPAT UK’s claim that a national plan of action on this issue – lacking since 2001 – is long overdue and must be addressed to ensure a coordinated response to child sexual exploitation by UK offenders across institutions and agencies.

An alarming revelation arising from the Inquiry hearings was that powers to prosecute offenders for crimes committed outside the UK were being used as a ‘last resort’. The Inquiry accepted ECPAT UK’s assertion that these powers - under section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 - should not be used as a last resort, leaving vulnerable children at risk of harm from offenders operating abroad.

The Inquiry found that there is a disjointed approach by local police forces to prosecuting offenders who exploit children outside the UK - citing low awareness among police forces of the extra-territorial provisions under section 72. ECPAT UK welcomes the amendments on use of section 72 in training material for police forces via the College of Policing’s Authorised Professional Practice. We hope that this will raise greater awareness of the use and application of such powers and create a more unified approach across the country. ECPAT UK welcomes these developments and calls on the government to review progress of the use of these powers in six months’ time.

ECPAT UK draws attention to the fact that even in high profile cases such as that of Paul Gadd, also known as Gary Glitter, prosecutions by UK police were not brought for offences committed against children in Vietnam and Cambodia – denying them justice. It is hoped that with the revised approach, UK police will be able to bring such offenders to justice more easily.

ECPAT UK has consistently raised concerns about the ease with which offenders can offend in countries with weaker justice and child protection systems. We are pleased the Inquiry flagged that the number of civil orders made restricting foreign travel for offenders ‘must increase’. ECPAT UK welcomes this finding and echoes its conclusion that ‘more radical measures’ must be taken to increase their use for those with relevant convictions, with consideration for the human rights of all concerned.

Challenges post-Brexit

Importantly, the Inquiry highlighted a lack of data collection on foreign travel restriction, section 72 prosecutions and civil orders by UK institutions, leaving authorities unable to assess the scale of this type of offending, respond appropriately and thus protect children abroad from abuse and bring offenders to justice.

ECPAT UK is pleased that the Inquiry reported on the importance of international cooperation. This is particularly critical as the UK leaves the European Union and loses access to European joint law enforcement mechanisms. This underlines the importance of human rights obligations including the Lanzarote Convention to take effective action to protect children from abuse. With online abuse creating greater ease of access to victims, international cooperation is more critical than ever to tackle these crimes.

However, the Inquiry’s report highlighted resourcing challenges resulting in a lack of ‘boots on the ground’, meaning the UK is perceived as offering less support to local law enforcement compared to counterparts in countries such as the USA.

Debbie Beadle, Director of Programmes at ECPAT UK, said

“We welcome the recommendations of the Inquiry, particularly regarding the need for a national plan of action to tackle child sexual abuse by UK nationals, the need for greater use of post-conviction travel restrictions for offenders and greater awareness among law enforcement agencies of extra-territorial criminal powers to bring offenders to justice.”

“We hope that by bringing these institutional failings to light, the UK can become a world leader in tackling the abuse of vulnerable children globally, and that child victims abroad are no longer ‘under the radar’ of authorities.

“In particular, we anticipate that the Inquiry’s recommendations will result in greater access to justice for children who are abused by those who exploit global poverty and inequality to commit these crimes with impunity.

“The government must now urgently act on these recommendations and ensure that action to protect children is adequately resourced.”



Foreign travel restriction is distinct from an outright travel ban for sex offenders.

Section 72 legislation in respect of child sexual abuse was introduced in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, section 72, and gives power to the police and National Crime Agency to try citizens of the UK in UK courts for offences committed abroad. This is irrespective of whether the sexual act committed abroad is considered an offence in that country.

Given its expertise and 25 years of experience in this field, ECPAT UK is a ‘core participant’ in this investigation. A legal team represents ECPAT UK: Zubier Yazdani of Deighton Pierce Glynn; and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Keina Yoshida of Doughty Street Chambers. 

ECPAT UK’s Director of Programmes, Debbie Beadle, is available for media interviews and comment on the Inquiry and the issue of transnational child exploitation by UK nationals.

The report is available here:

Full transcripts of the hearings are available on the IICSA website.

ECPAT UK is a leading children’s rights organisation campaigning to protect children from trafficking and transnational exploitation. We support children everywhere to uphold their right sand to live a life free from abuse and exploitation.

ECPAT UK was established in 1994 as the UK member of the ECPAT International network, with a mandate to campaign against child sex tourism and lobby for laws and policies to protect children and prosecute UK child sex offenders who exploit children abroad. In 1997, as a result of these campaigns the UK Government introduced new legislation to prosecute UK nationals for abusing children abroad. In July 2004 became a UK registered charity. Find out more:

Press contact
Sinead Geoghegan, Communications and Media Manager at ECPAT UK: [email protected], 0203 903 4630 / 07402 113 985