Monday, 25th February 2019

A recent landmark Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) investigation made public evidence about the failures of the UK’s institutions, policies and practices to protect children abroad from sexual abuse by its citizens. Bharti Patel, CEO of ECPAT UK, provided crucial evidence on these failures that meant UK citizens and those with links to England and Wales were able to travel abroad and sexually exploit children with impunity.

The Inquiry's investigation into the protection of children outside the UK from sexual abuse investigated the efficacy of the legal measures including:

  • Two civil orders which allow courts in England and Wales to restrict the movements of sex offenders who pose a risk to children and vulnerable adults in the UK and abroad
  • Extra-territorial jurisdiction in the Sexual Offences Act 2013, which allows UK courts to prosecute UK nationals for sexual offences against children committed abroad

In evidence to the Inquiry, ECPAT UK and other witnesses highlighted a range of institutional failings:

  • Widespread lack of awareness and use of these civil orders and extra-territorial jurisdictional measures among UK authorities and NGOs abroad
  • Between 2017 and 2018, 5,551 individuals were convicted or cautioned for sexual abuse offences in the UK, but only 11 had foreign travel restrictions imposed
  • Since the introduction of the new civil orders three years ago, 15,355 individuals received a Sexual Harm Prevention Order* but only 27 had foreign travel restrictions imposed (less than 2 in every 1,000 convicted or cautioned)
  • Since the introduction of extra-territorial jurisdiction in respect of sexual abuse abroad in 2004, only seven child sex offenders were reported to have been extradited from the country where they offended and prosecuted in the UK
  • Between 2013 and 2017, 361 UK nationals sought consular assistance following being arrested for child sex offences abroad, yet it is not known if these offenders were brought to justice either locally or in the UK

These failings have allowed offenders to travel abroad and sexually exploit children with impunity. ECPAT UK has documented offenders deliberately targeting children in countries where high levels of poverty and inequality leave children vulnerable, and child protection systems are weak. The world’s most vulnerable children, some as young as six months old, have been robbed of their childhood and right to safety, without any recourse to justice. Furthermore, they have faced difficulties accessing support and compensation.

During the Inquiry, the UK’s lack of coordinated national approach to managing sex offenders and prosecuting for offences committed outside the UK became clear, with policy and practice responsibilities for implementing the civil orders and prosecuting offenders under extraterritorial jurisdiction lying with different departments and agencies. This has made it difficult to assess the effectiveness of these tools to prevent transnational child exploitation and protect children. There are clear gaps in the availability of data on the number of civil orders issued with foreign travel restrictions, as well as data on the number of prosecutions and convictions of UK nationals who have abused children outside the UK.  

Bharti Patel, CEO of ECPAT UK, said:

‘What was clear and concerning to us is that despite existing legislation in the UK and tools to combat the sexual abuse of children both in the UK and abroad, this catalogue of evidence shows children abroad are still being abused by UK nationals. Clearly legislation can only be useful if it is applied appropriately.

‘For too long, this issue has been neglected and offenders allowed to commit this form of child exploitation with impunity. We hope the momentum on addressing this issue is not lost and that the Inquiry makes specific, practical recommendations that have tangible results to improve the protection of some of the world’s most vulnerable children.’

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Counsel representing ECPAT UK, said in her closing statement:

‘Children abroad deserve and require protection from British offenders. We say this is a critical opportunity for the inquiry to ensure that they remain on the radar, that this scrutiny continues and that the reality matches the powerful rhetoric you have heard this week. That, above all, ECPAT UK say, requires increased resources.’

The Inquiry will now consider the evidence presented and make practical recommendations to the Government to ensure better institutional protection for children in the future. ECPAT UK is calling for:

  • A comprehensive review of the UK’s plan of action to tackle transnational child exploitation
  • Effective use of foreign travel restrictions via the civil orders for known British child sex offenders, to prevent them from offending overseas
  • The establishment of a coherent national approach to policing extraterritorial offending against children, to replace existing strategy, practice and monitoring carried out disparately at the local force level



*A Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO) is an order under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 that magistrates or Crown Courts may impose upon individuals who have been convicted of sexual offences, or who are considered to pose a risk of sexual harm to either the general public or a certain group of people or individual person(s). SHPOs are made upon application by the police or other agencies and can include foreign travel restrictions. However, please note foreign travel restriction is distinct from an outright travel ban for sex offenders.

**Extra-territorial jurisdiction 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 British citizens in British 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 and Mark Hyland of Deighton Pierce Glynn; and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Keina Yoshida of Doughty Street Chambers. 

ECPAT UK’s CEO, Bharti Patel, is available for media interviews and comment on the Inquiry and the issue of transnational child exploitation by UK nationals.

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