ECPAT’s latest country overview report on Ireland says that despite recent improvements on the child protection laws – higher poverty and social inequality are leaving young people, especially from Roma, migrant, refugee and Traveller communities, at greater risk of sexual exploitation.
Sexual exploitation continues to affect Irish children, despite some positive legal developments, such as the enactment of the new Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 2017, which specifically criminalizes child sexual exploitation in all its manifestations. Vigilance is still required to protect the most vulnerable. Robbert van den Berg, Executive Director of ECPAT International says:
”Social inequality in Ireland is putting some children at greater risk of sexual exploitation – with Roma, migrant, refugee and Traveller communities more adversely affected. When income inequality remains high, children from vulnerable and marginalised groups are often denied fundamental human rights, such as access to housing, which exposes them to higher vulnerability and to different forms of violence, including sexual exploitation.”
Van den Berg had praise for the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, whilst also warning of possible loopholes that may allow child sex offenders to act with impunity.
“Overall, Ireland has a quite good legislative framework for the protection of children from sexual exploitation. However, the government could strengthen the legal structure even further. For example, by putting in place national complaint mechanisms that are sensitive to child victims, and taking measures that make it easier for victims to seek compensation.”
Paul Gilligan, Chief Executive Officer of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, who contributed to the report, comments:
“Sexual exploitation has a devastating impact on children’s physical wellbeing and mental health which can last a lifetime. It is essential that comprehensive specialized recovery services specific to child victims of sexual exploitation are established as an integral component of child and adolescent mental health services. Special attention needs to be paid to reaching out to child victims, removing all barriers to accessing support services.”
Specialized recovery and reintegration services needed
Although a number of support services are provided to child victims of crimes in Ireland, there is no specialized recovery and reintegration services specific to child victims of sexual exploitation, a situation that places the country at odds with most European nations. There is also a lack of viable avenues for child victims to seek compensation, particularly in cases of trafficking for sexual purposes. Saoirse Brady, Legal and Policy Director of the Children’s Rights Alliance comments:
“Online sexual exploitation is another area of huge concern. It continues to rise as domestic offenders become aware of the forensic tools used by police. This puts our children at greater risk of online grooming and exposure to sexual abuse or exploitative material online. In this context we welcome the recent recommendation by the Commission on the Future of Policing to urgently and substantially increase the capacity, expertise and resources of the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau to keep children safe online.”
Ireland also continues to be a destination country and is now increasingly becoming a source country for the trafficking of child victims for sexual purposes. The presence of children in brothels has also been reported.
ECPAT urges Ireland to ratify necessary child rights conventions
The report also recommends that the government immediately signs up to a number of international conventions to protect children from sexual exploitation. Ireland is the only European Union member that has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and one of three Council of Europe members that has not yet ratified the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (the Lanzarote Convention), which ECPAT says are significant legal instruments for protecting children. Ireland has also yet to fully incorporate the Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law, which explains why it does not fare well in international rankings on children’s access to justice.