15. Memorandum submitted by the National
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)
Cross-border challenges to child protection
require cross-border solutions. The NSPCC believes the EU has
an important role to play in providing these solutions, including
in the field of justice and home affairs, and that it must continue
to develop urgently needed initiatives in the field of JHA to
improve child protection in the EU. The NSPCC recommends that
not only decision making procedures but other obstacles to progress
in this area are explored.
Preventing unsuitable people from working with
In order to prevent unsuitable people moving
between countries to seek work with children, the NSPCC has been
highlighting for some years the need to improve the exchange of
information between EU Member States on child sex offenders, and
to recognise other countries' disqualifications from working with
There are a number of significant EU developments
in this field, including attempts to make progress in the area
of the mutual recognition and enforcement of prohibitions arising
from convictions for sexual offences committed against children.
However there have been obstacles to moving forward, which need
addressing. The NSPCC believes mutual recognition is the most
realistic way of responding to this problem.
Additionally, further steps are needed to enable
exchange of criminal records information, with a focus on offences
against children, as well as ensuring that this information can
be effectively made use of.
Identification of victims of child abuse images
The development of computer technologies, and
the internet in particular, has facilitated a dramatic expansion
in the market for child sex abuse images. The EU has helped tackle
this problem including through the adoption of a Framework Decision
on combating the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography
(2003), which obliges Member States to make offences related to
child pornography illegal and lays down lower limits for maximum
penalties. However, the NSPCC is aware that there is an urgent
need for greater practical cooperation, within the EU as well
1. The National Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is the UK's leading charity specialising
in child protection and the prevention of cruelty to children.
It is the only children's charity with statutory powers enabling
it to act to safeguard children at risk.
2. We have more than 180 teams and projects
throughout England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands.
Their work includes family support, counselling and therapy to
children and families experiencing abuse; investigations into
allegations of child abuse; and work within schools and other
youth organisations to provide a voice for children and advocate
their rights, among other activities.
3. The NSPCC provides an independent campaigning
voice for children. It works to influence government on legislation
and policy affecting the lives of children and families and runs
public education campaigns to raise awareness of, and encourage
action to prevent, child abuse.
4. The NSPCC welcomes the opportunity to
comment on the issue of EU Justice and Home Affairs. The questions
posed by this Inquiry are hugely important for efforts to protect
children in the context of the changing nature of crimes against
children, which increasingly transcend national borders including
due to greater cross-border movement of people and new technologies.
5. The NSPCC will not respond to all of
the questions raised in the consultation, but focus on the issues
about which it has particular knowledge and which are most significant
for child protection. These are:
A. The cross-border dimension of preventing
unsuitable people from working with children.
B. Identification of victims of child abuse
A. THE CROSS-BORDER
6. One of the NSPCC's main priorities at
EU level is improving information exchange between EU Member States
on people convicted of offences against children, with particular
emphasis on using this information to ensure disqualifications
are recognised across the Union. We are also concerned to develop
means of exchanging information about people who are cautioned,
but not convicted, in relation to sex offences against children.
In the UK system for example, such people would show up on a Criminal
Records Bureau check, but information about them would not be
exchanged with other countries under current proposals.
7. In the UK, the June 2004 report of the
Bichard Inquiry, which was prompted by the conviction of Ian Huntley
for the murder of two children in Soham, referred specifically
to the difficulty of checking the background of overseas workers.
It concluded that, "this is clearly an area of potential
weakness in the protection of young people" and recognised
the risks and loopholes posed by the lack of information sharing
between EU member states.
8. The NSPCC's knowledge supports the fact
that some sex offenders will go to considerable lengths to gain
access to children; this includes moving from one setting to another,
from one professional activity to another, and one country to
9. There have been a number of recent cases
in which closer EU co-operation could have made a real difference
to our ability to protect children from the activities of sex
offenders. In 2004, the case of Michel Fourniret in Belgium highlighted
a serious failure between neighbouring Member States to share
information, which resulted in a convicted sex offender from France
gaining employment in a school in Belgium.
10. The NSPCC's work in Northern Ireland
(NI) in particular has made us aware of the difficulties posed
by the existence of different systems across Member State borders.
The lack of disqualification arrangements in the Republic of Ireland
has created serious problems as offenders barred from working
with children in NI can easily cross the border to work in the
Republic of Ireland. There is some evidence from NSPCC NI that
a number of sex offenders are using gaps in the different legislation
and policy between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
to manipulate assessment and risk management arrangements. In
recent years the NSPCC NI has worked closely with the Irish Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) to highlight
the problems and loopholes, to the Irish government in particular.
11. The UK vetting system, although not
perfect, is considered to be one of the most rigorous in Europe.
The picture varies considerably across the EU with not every member
holding a list or a mechanism to track and monitor those who have
been disqualified from working with children.
12. The NSPCC has long recognised the need
to share information on convicted child sex offenders across the
EU. We have particularly emphasised the need to create a mechanism
for using this shared information to ensure that disqualifications
from working with children are recognised and enforced in all
member states. The NSPCC's CUPICSO report (2000) on
the collection and use of personal information on child sex offenders
examined how personal information was being used in different
member states. The report made several recommendations on how
to establish more effective methods at Union level to protect
children from sex offenders.
13. Since 2000 the NSPCC has continued to
campaign on this issue. In 2003 we held a roundtable discussion
in the European Parliament to highlight the existing gaps in advance
of EU enlargement. We have worked closely with the Home Office,
taking part in a Home Office seminar in March 2004 and joint information
trips to Belgium and France in 2004 which helped develop our knowledge
of relevant systems in other countries. At UK level the NSPCC
has campaigned for, helped develop and supported recent legislation
to prevent unsuitable people working with children at national
Our work has continued to shed light on the deficiences in relation
to cross-border cooperation and the challenges faced in this field.
14. The NSPCC also has a strong interest
as an employer of many staff who work closely with children in
ensuring that vetting and checking systems are as robust and thorough
as they can be, so that unsuitable and unsafe individuals, from
the UK or any other EU member state, or elsewhere are not able
to secure positions with children.
Current state of progress in mutual recognition,
including the development of minimum standards across the EU,
and whether further steps in this direction are desirable; In
which areas is mutual recognition currently employed?
15. The EU has been attempting to make progress
in the area of the mutual recognition and enforcement of prohibitions
arising from convictions for sexual offences committed against
16. The Belgian government proposed in 2004
a "Council framework decision on the recognition and enforcement
in the European Union of prohibitions arising from convictions
for sexual offences committed against children". Under the
decision, Member States would recognise and enforce bans on working
with children imposed on individuals by other Member States, where
these bans result from criminal convictions for sexual offences
committed against children.
17. The framework decision is proposed on
the basis of Articles 31(a) and 34(b) of the Treaty on European
Union, as a supplement to previous decisions including Framework
Decision 2004/68/JHA on combating the sexual exploitation of children
and child pornography (2003). This established a minimum common
EU approach to these offences, in particular as regards the type
of penalty and prohibition that should be provided for by national
legislation, thus laying the ground for legislative action in
18. The NSPCC welcomed this Belgian initiative
and detailed its reactions in a response to a Home Office consultation
in May 2005. This would be an important first step towards better
protection for children within a borderless Europe.
19. However, even this is proving difficult
to achieve. The European Parliament (under the consultation procedure)
adopted a report approving the Belgian initiative in May 2006,
with some minor changes. The Finnish Presidency subsequently drew
up a revised proposal which has been discussed in the relevant
Council Working Group over the past months. Negotiations have
so far been unsuccessful in reaching agreement. While Member States
agree on the important purpose of the initiative and the need
for action of this kind, there are a number of obstacles to agreeing
on a workable system.
20. This step is highly desirable in order
to respond to a growing challenge for child protection. It would
not be acceptable to reduce ambitions to improve protection for
children due to politically-motivated concerns. For the NSPCC,
it is crucial in the first instance to ensure that this legislation
21. It is important to recognise that this
first step alone would not create a satisfactory system. As an
organisation set up to protect children from all forms of abuse
the NSPCC sees the framework decision as a basis on which further
legislative action should be taken. Our concerns are in particular:
The proposal applies only to prohibitions
arising from convictions for sexual offences. However many states,
including the UK, have procedures for prohibiting other offenders,
and people who may pose a risk, from working with children. For
example, the disqualification order in England and Wales also
applies to some offenders convicted of violent and drug offences
against children. While we recognise the complexities involved
in extending the offences beyond those defined in the Council
framework decision on combating sexual exploitation of children
and pornography to include other forms of abuse and drug related
offences, we would like to see a continuing dialogue with the
EU member states to examine how this could be achieved.
The proposal stipulates that recognition
will only be of "prohibitions arising from convictions".
However in the UK there are also administrative systems (ie not
court-ordered convictions) intended to bar individuals who are
considered to be unsuitable to work with children. The UK vetting
and barring system is currently undergoing a huge reform to further
tighten the system, including creating a new independent panel
of experts whose role it will be to make decisions about prohibitions.
This kind of administrative disqualification is not recognised
in this proposal. The UK government has previously suggested examining
the potential of extending this framework decision to include
non court-ordered prohibitions, which the NSPCC supports.
The proposal does not address the
problem of discrepancies between penalties. We are concerned that
sex offenders may seek to reduce the time of a court-ordered prohibition
by moving between Member States seeking out more lenient penalties.
The NSPCC therefore believes that further action
is desirable to address these elements.
22. As mutual recognition has not yet been
operationalised in this area we cannot comments on its effectiveness.
Given the current political and legal EU context mutual recognition
would appear to be the most realistic way of making progress in
this area, which takes into account the wide variations in criminal
23. However, mutual recognition does have
limitations as evidenced by the current difficulties in adopting
the legislation described above.
24. The exchange and use of criminal record
information is an essential prerequisite for effective mutual
recognition. This is not easy, especially given the huge variety
of ways in which disqualifications are handed out and registered.
It is clear that Enlargement has also added to the range of criminal
justice systems within the EU and increased the variety of approaches
which need to be coordinated. However, ongoing efforts in this
area must be vigorously pursued.
25. The CUPICSO report included recommendations
that governments ensure that criminal records contain a discrete
category of records on child sex offenders; put in place arrangements
to facilitate the movement of information on child sex offenders
within countries; and set up clear national contact points to
facilitate cross-border information sharing, among others. Many
of the report's recommendations remain valid.
26. The Commission produced a White Paper
in January 2005 on exchanges of information on convictions and
the effect of such convictions in the European Union. Crimes committed
against children, particularly sexual offences, are very different
in nature to the other "serious crimes" recognised by
the EU; terrorism, organised crime and fraud. At the time, the
NSPCC expressed concerns that the White Paper was not specific
enough to effectively deal with sexual crimes against children.
27. However, the NSPCC welcomed the Commission's
commitment to putting in place a mechanism for exchanging information
on convictions within a reasonable time frame. We also supported
the idea of setting up a European index of offenders, a means
of identifying the Member States in which a person has previous
convictions, which could be easily consulted but which complies
with national and European privacy laws. We believe this would
enable the exchange of information more rapidly. Priority should
be given to using this information for checking individuals who
seek employment with children and young people.
28. However, the subsequent proposal for
a Council framework decision on the organisation and content of
the exchange of information extracted from criminal records between
Member States (December 2005) did not include the earlier suggestion
of a European index of offenders. The NSPCC questions the reasons
for not taking forward the idea of an index of offenders.
29. The NSPCC believes that further steps
to ensure exchange of criminal records information should be vigorously
pursued, with a focus on offences against children, and ensuring
that this information can be effectively made use of.
30. The development of computer technologies,
and the internet in particular, has facilitated a dramatic expansion
in the market for child sex abuse images. The internet allows
images of the sexual abuse of children to be distributed all over
the world and the evidence points to a vast increase in the number
of images in circulation and to more and more children being abused
to produce these images.
31. The Interpol database of child abuse
images contains photographic evidence of more than 20,000 individual
children who have been sexually abused for the production of child
abuse images. In May 2006, fewer than 500 of these victims had
been identified and become subject to protection.
32. The NSPCC has been working to focus
attention on the victims of this crime, who are often forgotten
in police efforts to identify and convict perpetrators. In 2003
the NSPCC published "Images of abuse: A review of the
evidence on child pornography".
The NSPCC was one of the first to identify this need and work
with the police in a joint initiative called "E-Spy",
to track down and prosecute people who download images of child
sexual abuse from the internet and to identify the victims shown
in the images. The NSPCC have also successfully lobbied the UK
government for the creation and set up of CEOP(C) the new Child
Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and have embedded several
of our staff in the new centre. We strongly support CEOP(C) programme
of internet safety work which includes the identifying of victims.
However we do not believe that the level of funding and resources
channelled into the new centre to work on victim identification
is yet sufficient.
33. The EU has helped tackle this problem
including through the adoption of the 2003 framework decision
on combating the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography,
which obliges Member States to make offences related to child
pornography illegal and lays down lower limits for maximum penalties.
34. The NSPCC is aware however that there
is an urgent need for greater practical cooperation, within the
EU as well as beyond. The most successful initiative to date has
been the creation of the Virtual Global Task Force (VGT) which
is a produce of cooperation at an operational level between a
number of law enforcement agencies. However, its growth has been
slow and there continue to be considerable difficulties around
data sharing between countries. Interpol is currently struggling
to set up one comprehensive global database of images and they
have expressed concerns about the challenges to this. There is
currently a pressing need for this issue to be given greater political
priority and more global leadership.
The process of decision making on JHA issues at
35. The principle of open borders and the
free movement of goods, services and people has many advantages
for EU citizens. However it has also made it easier for individuals
to take advantage of open borders for criminal purposes and to
evade detection. New cross-border threats to children require
36. The NSPCC is concerned that important
objectivessuch as agreeing initiatives aiming to better
protect children, and exchanging relevant information efficiently
and effectivelyare failing to be reached due to the difficulties
in this area. Changing decision making procedures alone is unlikely
to be enough to address urgent child protection concerns.
37. Changes in criminal behaviour linked
to increasing freedom of movement of people as well as new technologies,
demand ambitious responses from governments. Greater and more
effective European cooperation to tackle crime including against
children is essential. This includes judicial cooperation, and
addressing the difficulties currently being faced.
38. The NSPCC recommends that not only decision
making procedures but other obstacles to progress in this area
are explored. Political will and a spirit of cooperation will
be essential ingredients in moving this work forward.
39. The EU can and must continue to develop
urgently needed initiatives in the field of JHA to improve child
protection in the EU.
Kathleen Spencer Chapman
17 November 2006
107 CUPICSO: the collection and use of personal
information on child sex offenders. London: NSPCC (2000). Back
These include: The Police Act 1997 including implementation of
Part V in Northern Ireland; Response to the Interdepartmental
Working Group on Preventing Unsuitable People from Working with
Children, Protection of Children Act 1999; The Protection of Children
and Vulnerable Adults (NI) Order 2003; The Sexual Offences (Amendments)
Act 2000; The Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000; The
Sexual Offences Act 2003; Response to the CRB consultation paper
on the Reform of the Disclosure Process; Response to the Northern
Ireland Office consultation "Safer Recruitment in Northern
It is also important to note that in February 2006 the Commission
published a Communication on Disqualifications arising from criminal
convictions in the European Union. This recommended taking a sectoral
approach, giving priority where a common basis between Member
States already exists-such as in the field of prohibitions arising
from convictions for child sex offences. Back
These figures were provided by Europol in May 2006. Back