New offence to cut child abuse

A GOVERNMENT report will tomorrow recommend the creation of a new criminal offence to prevent sex offenders applying to work with children.

The move comes as a police investigation showed that hundreds of youngsters had suffered abuse on foreign exchange trips.

The recommendation, which will cover employment with organisations linked to children and jobs working directly with young people, follows research by health, education and Home Office officials. A number of child abuse scandals involving sex offenders working in children's homes and Scout groups were uncovered.

Yesterday it emerged that 550 children, aged seven to 18, had been abused on foreign exchange visits after being placed with unvetted host families and adult workers. The victims, discovered in the space of three months and including British children sent abroad as well as foreign children sent to this country, were described as "the tip of the iceberg" by police.

Officers from Avon and Somerset Police conducted a 15-month study after a 12-year-old Spanish boy was found living with a sex offender in Bath.

Detective Superintendent Chris Gould was given a government grant to investigate the issue. The officers, who travelled the world as part of their investigation, found that the problem was universal but that no country had taken steps to prevent it. Det Supt Gould said: "In the first few months of our study we identified 550 cases of abuse and only three had ever been reported to police. The victims range in age from seven to 18 and the abuse happens all over Europe. No one is immune but there are certainly things people can do to cut down the risks."

Avon and Somerset Police will share their findings with professionals and law enforcement officers from Council of Europe countries next month in an effort to get recognised international guidelines on such trips.

The force has drawn up a series of travel guides for police, host families, parents and voluntary and commercial organisations aimed at limiting the opportunities for child abusers.

Detective Constable Kay Jones said: "We advise parents to ask lots of questions and they should not assume that somebody has already asked them. They need to find out as much as they can about the family their child is staying with and to obtain a telephone number so that they can remain in contact with their child throughout the stay."

She said it was not the intention of the initiative to discourage parents from sending their children on trips abroad.

"We are not trying to discourage children from travelling. It's a very positive learning experience but we want them to do it safely."

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