Concluding Observations for the United Kingdom's Initial Report on the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children


Below is a short summary of some of the key issues from the Committee on the Rights of the Child's 66th session concluding observations for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s initial report on the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (OPSC). Read the full text, and you can find other documents related to the Committee's 66th session (including alternative reports submitted by NGOs and the Committee's concluding observations for other States reviewed in this session) on the Committee’s 66th session page. Please note that these are not official UN summaries.

Coordination: The Committee further notes with concern the complex lines of accountability and coordination for the implementation of the Optional Protocol in England and Wales, with the Home Office retaining control over the anti-trafficking strategy, and the Department for Education and local governments holding responsibility for the care and support of child victims, including trafficked children, which results in differences in focus and approach in handling cases of sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography. (para. 15)

The Committee recommends that the State party designate a unit with high-level authority and capacity of providing leadership and effective general oversight for the monitoring and evaluation of activities under the Optional Protocol across sectoral ministries and from the central to local levels of the government, and provide it with adequate human, technical and financial resources for its effective functioning. The Committee also recommends that the State party ensure better coordination among the various governments across the four jurisdictions while developing and implementing legislations and policies for the implementation of the Optional Protocol to ensure consistency in their approach. (para. 16)

Prevention of offences: The Committee is concerned about that the State party has closed hundreds of Sure Start children's centres, which provide instrumental support to children and their families in vulnerable situations and help to deal with the underlying root causes of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, such as poverty. The Committee is further concerned that despite statutory guidance stating that ‘bed and breakfast’ type of accommodation is not suitable for unaccompanied migrant children, asylum-seeking and trafficked children who are vulnerable to exploitation, they are continued to be housed in such accommodation. (para. 25)

The Committee recommends the State party immediately stop all further closures of Sure Start children's centres and take all necessary measures to increase budget and provide adequate resources for accessible and quality services in these centers. The Committee also recommends that the State party ensure that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, irregular migrant children and child victims of trafficking are entitled to special protection and care and that they are provided with safe and adequate accommodation. The State party should also ensure that care arrangements made for such children are regularly supervised and assessed by qualified persons to ensure the child’s physical and psychosocial health, protection against violence or exploitation. (para. 26)

Current laws and regulations: The Committee is concerned that under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 applicable in England and Wales, and the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008, for certain grave offences of sexual exploitation of children between 13 and 16 years of age, such as meeting a child following sexual grooming, engaging in sexual activity with a child, arranging or facilitating a child sex offence, the defendant may claim that he/she believed the victim to be above 18 years. The Committee is further concerned that it is then for the prosecution to prove that the defendant did not reasonably believe this, with the risk of further cross-examinations of child victims and their consequent re-victimization. (para. 27)

The Committee reminds the State party that under the Optional Protocol, the term "child" applies to all persons under the age of 18 years and therefore, it urges the State party to revise its legislation to ensure that all children up to 18 years of age are protected from all types of offences covered by the Optional Protocol. Furthermore, the Committee urges the State party to ensure that, in the rebuttable presumption of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it includes a provision that for child victims, the burden of proof would be reversed. (para. 29)

Child trafficking: The Committee is strongly concerned that thousands of children continue to be trafficked every year in the State party, particularly for sexual exploitation and labour, and it expresses its deepest concern about reports that hundreds of children have been abducted from their families in Africa and trafficked to the State party for brutal religious rituals, such as the so-called voodoo and juju rituals. (para. 30)

The Committee urges that the State party strengthen the capacity of law-enforcement authorities and judiciary to detect and prosecute trafficking of children for labour, sexual and other forms of exploitation, including for religious rituals. The Committee further recommends that the State party enact a specific legislation on child trafficking in accordance with the Optional Protocol and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (UN Palermo Protocol) and ensure that the crime of child trafficking is defined consistently and prosecuted throughout the State party. (para. 31)

Child sex tourism: The Committee is deeply concerned that the State party’s citizens, including some convicted sex offenders who have set up children’s orphanages and charities in other countries, travel and sexually abuse children abroad. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned about the findings of the recent review of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (the Davies Report), commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers, that the State party’s law and extra-jurisdictional policing arrangements fail both to prevent British sex offenders from travelling and to prosecute them when they commit offences abroad, putting children at risk of exploitation and abuse by British tourists. (para. 32)

The Committee urges the State party to:

  1. Urgently implement the recommendations of ‘The Davies Report’ and review its legislation, including the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to prevent sexual exploitation of children abroad by British sex offenders;

  2. Establish a single specialized police unit directed at extra-territorial sexual offending against children to investigate such offences and provide adequate training and resources to investigate and prosecute such offences;

  3. Take all necessary measures, legal and institutional, to strengthen identification, investigation and prosecution of the State party’s nationals involved in sexual exploitation of children abroad and take all necessary measures to restrict movements of convicted or alleged child sex abusers from leaving the State party, including by imposing stricter travel bans; and

  4. Conduct advocacy with the tourism industry on the harmful effects of child sex tourism, widely disseminate the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Global Code of Ethics for Tourism among travel agents and tourism agencies, and encourage these enterprises to become signatories to the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism and to report publicly on their efforts to prevent child sex tourism. (para. 33)

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