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Bill to fight child grooming introduced to prevent 'Irish Rotherham'

Cross-party support is being sought to pass the bill.

Updated 4.08 pm 

PEOPLE WHO ‘GROOM’ children for prostitution could face up to 14 years in prison if a new bill comes to pass.

The bill follows a unanimous recommendation from the Oireachtas Justice Committee to create such an offence in order to combat abuse, exploitation and prostitution of children.

It was prepared with the support of number of charities including the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Ruhama and the Immigrant Council of Ireland who say they have detected 30-children trafficked in Ireland for the purposes of sexual exploitation over the last two years.

The bill is being tabled by Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and seeks to include:

  • Certain acts, including the soliciting, requesting, counselling, encouraging, procuring or enticing a child (under the age of 17) to do any act, including meeting an adult; or communicating with a child by whatever means with a view of gaining the trust of that child.
  • Doing anything that would constitute sexual exploitation of a child shall be guilty an offence.
  • On conviction such offences shall carry penalties not exceeding 14-years imprisonment.

In announcing her bill, Corcoran Kennedy made reference to recent investigation into child exploitation in the UK city of Rotherham which detailed the abuse of 1,400 children over the course of 16 years. She said that, if implemented quickly, the bill would help “prevent the danger of such widespread abuse happening here”.

My short bill seeks to tidy up existing legislation in this area and introduce into Irish law the specific crime of child grooming, whether it takes place in the general community or online. It will ensure that those who seek to harm our children can find no hiding place in the law and do not have an opportunity to use legal confusion to escape justice.

The need for legislation in the area was unanimously accepted by the Oireachtas Justice Committee and Corcoran Kennedy says she will be seeking cross-party in order to pass the bill.

The ICI’s Denise Charlton said that if passed it will deal a “significant blow to traffickers and pimps”.

“This bill offers an opportunity to protect and support underage girls and boys who are trafficked into and around Ireland to meet the demands of sex buyers. In the past two-years alone 30 such children have been detected,” she said.

Charlton said that the bill reflects the recommendation of the Oireachtas Committee and that the ICI will be pushing for other recommendations to be implemented including the introduction of laws the purchase of sex.

Anti-prostitution organisation Ruhama has also welcomed the bill saying that they have worked with women who have been trafficked and groomed as minors before being drawn into prostitution.

“Perpetrators can range from strangers building up relationships with young people, to their own family members abusing positions of trust,” said CEO Sarah Benson. “Grooming has been something Ireland has lacked the legislative mechanisms required to deal with up until now.”

Today’s bill has been criticised by UglyMugs.ie who campaign on behalf of sex workers and are opposed to the criminalisation of sex buyers.

They contest the ICI’s claim that 30 children have been trafficked to Ireland for prostitution in the last two years. They point to a Department of Justice report for 2012 into human trafficking which detailed that there were two reported cases of children being trafficked into Ireland for prostitution.

Read: More than 1,400 children sexually exploited in UK town over 16 years >

Opinion: Why are so many victims of child sexual abuse reluctant to report it? >

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Rónán Duffy

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