ECPAT UK conference: The UK and child exploitation, where in the world are we?

On 20th November 2009, ECPAT UK together with the Metropolitan Police Service’s Operation Golf (Operation Golf is a part EC funded ‘Joint Investigation Team’ investigating Romanian Roma organised crime networks. This investigation targets one of the largest human trafficking rings in Europe, trafficking children for the purposes of begging, volume crime and large scale benefit fraud) and leading criminal barristers chambers Three Raymond Buildings held a joint conference to mark the 20 year anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The conference was attended by police, lawyers and policy makers and focused on the protection of children across borders. ECPAT UK was keen to hold an event to mark the 20 year anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UNCRC is the world’s most widely ratified international human rights instrument. The UK signed the UNCRC in 1990, it was ratified in late 1991 and came into force in the UK on 15th January 1992. Significantly for this conference the UK ratified the Optional Protocol to the UNCRC on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography in early 2009. The conference examined the UK’s record in protecting children from exploitation from British nationals overseas and combating the exploitation of child victims of trafficking in the UK. The event was held to share good practice and learning amongst law enforcement and prosecutors and provided an opportunity for discussion of whether the UK has appropriate laws and safeguards in place to prevent offences against children and prosecute offenders, and whether these safeguards are being implemented.

Upholding children’s right to protection has become ever more complex in the 21st century. Cheaper international travel, new technology and diminishing borders have resulted in new threats to children and have increased the need for legislation and policy that extends beyond national boundaries. The UK has a good track record in legislation that allows for the prosecution of those that exploit and abuse children in complex circumstances where borders have been crossed. The Sex Offenders Act (1996) introduced the concept of extraterritorial law for those that travelled abroad to sexually abuse children. This was substantially updated in the Sexual Offences Act (2003) and again with recent changes in the Policing and Crime Act 2009 which completed its passage through Parliament in late 2009. The trafficking of children for sexual exploitation was also recognised in law for the first time in the Sexual Offences Act (2003) and was then followed by the criminalisation of trafficking for labour exploitation in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004.

However, legislation in itself is not enough to guarantee the protection of children and requires professionals to work together in environments that may not be familiar. The successful prosecution of offenders and the protection of child witnesses often requires both formal and informal cooperation across borders, at times with non-traditional partners.

This conference hoped to achieve a greater understanding of what legal tools and opportunities are available to professionals who are committed to the protection of children across borders, whether that be the trafficking of children into the UK or the sexual abuse of children by British nationals who travel abroad.

ECPAT UK (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) is a leading children’s rights organisation campaigning against the commercial sexual exploitation of children, in particular, it focuses on the protection of trafficked children and children exploited in tourism and the prevention of such crimes. For further information about ECPAT UK’s work and to get involved in our campaigns please visit

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