Sarah challenges Home Secretary on refusal to put child exploitation offence into law

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Sarah has this week challenged the Home Secretary on the government's refusal to put an offence of child exploitation into law. Sarah has fought for the inclusion of the offence in the Modern Slavery Bill, as child exploitation is not currently recognised in law. Following the revelations of the recent Jay report in Rotherham, and Sarah's work running a Parliamentary Inquiry into child sexual exploitation, Sarah has used her role as part of the Bill Committee for the Modern Slavery Bill to press the government for action on child exploitation. However, as the final stages of the Bill passed through the House of Commons, the government refused to include the child exploitation offence recommended by Sarah.

Following Theresa May's comments that the government would give victims the support they need and deserve, the Rotherham MP challenged:

I am pleased to hear that she is putting victims at the very centre of the Bill. Why, then, did the Government turn down Labour's amendment to make child exploitation part of the Bill?

The Home Secretary replied:

The worry was that if it were referenced in the Bill in the way suggested, that could lead to certain actions and activities falling within the description of child exploitation that were never intended to be part of the Bill. In short, I am afraid that the law of unintended consequences would have kicked in and a disbenefit would have resulted from having that aspect in the Bill.

Speaking after the debate, Sarah said:

I am very disappointed that the government has chosen to ignore my calls for putting an offence of child exploitation into law. We have learned from the situation in Rotherham just how important it is that child victims are recognised, and recognising them in statue is surely the best way to ensure they have the protections they need.

We have seen in Rotherham systematic exploitation that was allowed to go unchallenged. This is exploitation that our children should be protected against in law.

I have learned a principle from my work in the field of child sexual exploitation, and that is that no matter what the context, a child cannot consent. This is why it is so important that we recognise in law that child victims are different: they are vulnerable, easily influenced and scared.

The Home Secretary has made the wrong decision on this, and I will continue to argue for changes that put child victims at the heart of the law.

NewsVanessa Johns