A report revealing that nearly 400 sex offenders have disappeared “off the radar” of UK law enforcement highlights the UK’s continuing failure to prevent child sexual abuse, according to leading children’s rights charity ECPAT UK.

The revelations magnify the significant harm posed to children abroad by UK offenders who flee the country and abuse children in countries where child protection systems are weak or non-existent.

ECPAT UK said today that the report calls into question the Government’s commitment to “ensuring the system is as robust as possible”, adding that it demonstrates systemic failures to manage sex offenders and prevent them from moving around in the UK or leaving the UK and travelling to countries to abuse vulnerable children with impunity.

The revelations emerge only one day after the Government introduced new measures to restrict the activities of individuals who pose a threat to children. These new powers, introduced in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime & Policing Act in response to pressure from the ECPAT UK-backed Childhood Lost campaign, aim to enable police forces to better manage and restrict the activities of individuals who pose a risk to children, such as limiting their internet use, preventing them from being alone with a child under 16 or preventing travel abroad.

However, without adequate tracking and data monitoring systems, the threat to children abroad threatens to undermine the efficacy of this new system. A government official recently admitted that statistical data on Britons who had previously been reported missing arrested and charged abroad between April 2011 and March 2012 for rape and sexual abuse of minors under the age of 18 was “not held centrally.”

With the recent convictions of high profile cases involving celebrities like Gary Glitter and Ian Watkins, employees of large companies such as Bartle Frere and Simon Wood, and individuals with prior convictions and travel restrictions such as Simon Harris, there is an increasing public concern over safety of children everywhere from paedophiles who continue to travel outside the UK and abuse children. 

ECPAT UK said the UK Government has a responsibility and a duty to ensure adequate resources are made available to law enforcement agencies to regularly monitor and track sex offenders. It also recommended that UK police should immediately inform authorities in other countries of the offenders that have gone missing, share intelligence, develop joint investigation teams, deport offenders once identified, place them under strict surveillance and prosecute them for their crimes.  

Bharti Patel, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: “The failure to manage UK sex offenders is shocking and compounds the already huge threat to children in the UK and abroad. We must acknowledge that the UK is responsible for exporting child abusers. What is being done to monitor and manage them?”

“The UK government is yet to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, which places obligations on the UK to fully cooperate with international partners on the prevention of sexual exploitation of children wherever it occurs. The public has a right to know what law enforcement is doing to prevent high-risk child sex offenders from accessing children and what citizens can do to protect children from such abusers. We must use every means at our disposal to arrest this abhorrent trend.”