Government accused of softening stance over sex offender sentences

The government is watering down proposed tough
sentences for adults who sexually exploit children, a conference
heard last week.

Speaking at a London conference supported by
Community Care independent researcher Sara Swann warned that
proposals in the government’s review of sexual offences to
introduce tough sentences, including life imprisonment for buying
the sexual services of a child aged under 13, may not be made

The consultation document on reforming the law
also recommended a 10-year sentence for sexually exploiting
children aged between 13 and 16 and five years for those between 16
and 18. The consultation ended in March and campaigners are
awaiting a response from ministers.

Swann outlined the findings of her evaluation
of the implementation of the government’s guidance on child
prostitution – carried out for the Department of Health – which was
issued in May 2000. The guidance places a duty on area child
protection committees to find out the level of child prostitution
in their area and draw up plans to deal with it.

Just over two-thirds of committees – 111 out
of 146 – said they had a protocol or draft in place; 27 said they
had none. Eight did not know.

Only three committees out of 50 researched in
detail said they had made any progress on the dual aims of
protecting children involved and prosecuting the exploiters. They
pointed to the lack of police targets, a lack of monitoring, and a
lack of focus on the adults who commercially exploit children.

Representatives from the leading children’s
charities which organised the event, pointed out that young people
involved in prostitution often refused to engage with statutory
agencies, so voluntary organisations were essential. But without
new ring-fenced resources, they could not sustain this work and
smaller agencies working with young people living on the streets
were in dire financial straights.

But David Holmes, head of the children’s
safeguards unit at the Department of Health, said the issue would
not be resolved by new systems of funding and the children involved
should be provided for via social services funds.

– The conference Hidden Children, was run by
the Somewhere Safe consortium comprised of the NSPCC, Children’s
Society, NCH and Barnardo’s.

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