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A book to protect children

The Protection of Minors (Registration) Act, which has just come into force, includes key provisions that will help in protecting children. This is more than welcome since this law embodies children’s rights. What rights? It protects, rather than gives, rights to children.

The registration of sexual offenders was well overdue...
- Ann Marie Mangion

One must not forget the foundations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Protection is one of the key elements of the convention.

Protection does not mean denying children their right to self-determination. On the contrary, protection is the liberator of children’s rights because it protects children to the extent that it leaves them free to enjoy their rights. And this is exactly what this law aims to do.

Way back in 2002, in Soham, England, two girls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, both aged 10, were brutally murdered by a school caretaker, Ian Huntley. Later, it was found that this was not the first sexual offence allegedly committed by Mr Huntley. In fact, he had a history of rape and sexual assault with underage girls or young adult women but he was never charged or brought to court. Mr Huntley was even allowed to work within a school as a caretaker.

This law aims to prevent convicted registered offenders from being employed in a place that brings them in contact with minors. The onus is on the employer to make sure that a registered sexual offender is not employed at all in a job that allows contact with children.

Is it right to put the onus on the employer to check on the potential employee’s background? The answer is yes because just as an employer is responsible in engaging an employee who is competent in his/her field, so should an employer be responsible to adhere to the provisions of this law in making sure that a prospective employee is not a registered offender.

What about present employees? Should they be checked upon? The answer is also in the affirmative. In fact, article 4(1) of the law in question states that the relevant entity must check whether its employees are registered offenders “...not earlier than six months from the coming into force of this Act but not later than 18 months from the coming into force of this Act”.

The register mentioned in the law mostly caters for sexual offenders, however, that does not mean that it is limited to sexual offences.

Does the law cater for employment only? What about catechism classes or other volunteers in contact with children? Once these are not employed, can registered offenders avoid being detected by opting for voluntary positions? The answer is no.

Article 3(3) lays down that “any registered person shall be ineligible for membership of, or any employment or other position with, any institution, establishment or organisation providing or organising any service or activity which involves the education, care, custody, welfare or upbringing of minors, whether such membership, employment or other position is against payment or otherwise”.

Therefore, the law caters for any position whether it is a salaried one or not, that is, a voluntary one. Moreover, a registered person will be ineligible to hold a position within any institution that provides education, care, custody, welfare or upbringing of minors. Therefore, this includes catechism too since they provide religious education. If a person subject to notification, and, thus, effectively put on the register, is involved in any such activities, s/he will have to stop working or stop from being involved with immediate effect.

Even though the law does not cater solely for sexual offenders, its primary aim is of protecting minors from sexual offenders. Its aim, in fact, is “to provide for the registration of sexual offenders and other offenders who commit offences of serious violence”.

Sexual offences are not only limited to rape, defilement of minors or violent indecent assault but also include abduction, prostitution, pornography, solicitation, sex tourism and the umbrella provisions of sexual activities.

Are sexual offenders unknown to their victims? Don Grubin states that the majority of sexual offenders sexually assault minors who are known to them, such as relatives, neighbours, minors within a school environment and so on, with about 80 per cent of offences taking place in the home of either the offender or victim (Sex Offending Against Children: Understanding The Risk, Home Office, Policing and Reducing Crime Unit, Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, 1998).

Sexual abuse of minors leaves the victims scarred and its long-term emotional consequences will be felt well into adulthood. In fact, sometimes the victims will engage into self-destructive behaviour.

The registration of sexual offenders was well overdue because its absence meant there was no effective protection to vulnerable minors against sexual predators.

[email protected]

Dr Mangion is a lawyer and a published author with a special interest in family and child law.

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