Monday, 22nd January 2021

The government has released its new strategy to tackle child sexual abuse. We welcome the government’s commitment to making sure all children, within and outside of the UK, are protected from sexual abuse and exploitation by citizens or residents of the UK and want to see this work to go further in protecting those most vulnerable to child sexual abuse and exploitation.

The government’s landmark strategy on tackling child sexual abuse (CSA) aims to “prevent, tackle and respond to all forms of child sexual abuse”, including the sexual abuse of children abroad by UK nationals – an issue ECPAT UK has campaigned on for the last 25 years as part of the ECPAT International network.

We are pleased to see that the strategy recognises this is a global issue and aims to create a more joined up approach to tackling child sexual abuse, with greater coordination between agencies and better data recording practices – echoing ECPAT UK’s campaigns and our evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse investigation into the protection of children outside the UK.

The government’s response to the IICSA report, also released last week, announced plans to implement many of the Inquiry’s recommendations. Many of these measures now form part of the UK’s wider CSA strategy.

National plan of action
The strategy document sets out the UK’s long overdue national plan of action to tackle the sexual exploitation of children abroad by UK nationals. ECPAT UK has long called for a national plan of action, which formed one of IICSA’s recommendations to government.

The new plan of action includes:

  • bringing more offenders to justice by supporting intelligence sharing and coordination with local law enforcement overseas through the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) International Liaison Officer Network
  • using Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to allow UK individuals who offend overseas to be prosecuted in the UK
  • better multi-agency working to manage offenders
  • strengthening the civil orders regime
  • developing a list of countries where children are considered to be at high risk of sexual abuse and exploitation from UK nationals and residents
  • investment in work with overseas partners in hotspots for transnational child sex offenders
  • reducing opportunities for offending by ensuring that organisations operating abroad, including the aid sector, have the right safeguards in place
  • providing clear guidance and communications about the International Child Protection Certificate, which screens employment candidates for prior international offences
  • collaborating with the NCA, intelligence community and the third sector to keep up to date with trends in risk and offending
  • continuing to implement, review and update the law enforcement response through preventative and operational measures such as updating guidance and continuous professional development

The new government strategy follows the release of the International Development Committee’s progress report on sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector, which highlights the continued endemic abuse of vulnerable people abroad by UK aid workers as well as the need to ensure that the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office prioritises this issue as it takes over stewardship of the UK aid budget.

Online harms
The strategy also sets out how the government will use new legislation and enhanced technology to prevent the sexual abuse of children online, protect victims and bring offenders to justice. With increased access to technology in the UK and abroad, offenders are increasingly using technology platforms to sexually abuse children abroad via live-streaming – offences the UK’s new Online Harms Bill aims to address. With more children spending time online than ever before due to the coronavirus pandemic, more measures are urgently needed.

Child trafficking
Acknowledging that many victims of child sexual exploitation are also victims of trafficking, the government has once more committed to continuing to roll out the Independent Child Trafficking Guardians service. However, it has still not committed to a timeline for fully rolling out the scheme across all of England and Wales. ECPAT UK has long campaigned for all trafficked children to have guardians, to provide them with specialist support and reduce risks of further exploitation and harm.

We are concerned that, the strategy fails to acknowledge the particular vulnerabilities to sexual exploitation of children in the immigration system, nor does it outline any measures to provide for their need for greater protection from sexual abuse and exploitation.

Patricia Durr, Chief Executive of ECPAT UK, said

“We welcome the national strategy on tackling all forms of child sexual abuse – particularly the inclusion of children outside the UK from abuse by travelling child sex offenders and those who abuse children abroad online, the government’s recognition of child sexual abuse as a global issue, and its acknowledgement that the UK must be a global leader in tackling these abhorrent abuses. 

The commitment to “pursue, prepare, protect and prevent” is right and must also involve tackling the causes of exploitation, such as reducing inequality and vulnerability.

We also welcome the government’s response to the IICSA Inquiry report. During the Inquiry investigation, there was evidence highlighting the underuse of powers under section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act – the UK’s extraterritorial legislation for bringing offenders who exploit children abroad to justice, and we would like to see a review of progress made on increasing police awareness and its joined up use.

The government’s commitment to robust offender management system in the UK and the steps it is taking to strengthen multiagency working to manage offenders will help keep children safe. However it is still unclear about its plans to mitigate the impact of the UK’s loss of access to international law enforcement mechanisms post-Brexit, which will impact the UK’s ability to identify child victims of sexual abuse and exploitation and investigate offences.

Implementing the strategy needs adequate funding and addressing the pressures on local services in the UK as well as the recent cuts to the UK’s foreign aid budget is vital if the UK is serious about leading and strengthening the domestic and global response to child sexual abuse.”



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.

Press contact

Sinead Geoghegan, Communications and Media Manger, ECPAT UK: 07402 113 985 [email protected]