Sinn Fein motion targets child sex abuse

The needs of some of NI’s most vulnerable people have been in focus this week with Sinn Fein MLA Jennifer McCann highlighting the need for a comprehensive strategy to tackle the abuse of vulnerable young people who are missing from care.

Speaking on a motion brought forward to the Assembly following the publishing of the Barnardos report ‘Not a World Away’, Ms McCann said: “While any child can be a victim of sexual exploitation evidence based research acknowledges that children in care can be one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged group in society

“There are various forms of sexual exploitation that have been identified which vulnerable children and young people face.

“Abuse through prostitution, the ‘party house’ model, sexually exploitive relationships, Internet exploitation and trafficking for the purpose of exploitation are all serious concerns.

“The circumstances which a child or young person finds themselves in can make them more vulnerable to predators, for instance family breakdown, being in care, running away from home or a care facility, drug or alcohol problems with either the young person or their parents, dropping out of school and social isolation,” she added.

“Children as young as 12 or 13 have been groomed and then sexually abused sometimes after [they have] been given drink or drugs. The long term effects that it has on those children and young people can last well into adulthood,” she said.

The MLA said that over half (53.3%) of young people in residential care were assessed to be at significant risk of sexual exploitation compared to 10.7% of those living at home, 7.8% of those in a kinship foster placement and 6.5% of those in other forms of foster care.

“It is important that there is a targeted approach to identify those children that are at risk and vulnerable and support mechanisms put around them. There have been a number of good initiatives both in legislative terms and in action plans that have been brought forward, but there are still gaps,” she continued.

“I would ask that the Ministers in the Executive take on board the findings in the Barnardos report ‘Not a World Away’ and act to make any effort possible to protect our children and young people from this vile crime and ensure that those responsible are held to account through the courts.”

The party’s motion said: “This Assembly expresses deep concern at the findings of the Barnardo’s report which exposes the level of risk of sexual exploitation for children and young people in or missing from care.

“It calls on the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to ensure that all legislation is used to protect those children who are exposed to this risk, and that the perpetrators of sexual crimes against these children and young people are brought before the courts; and further calls on all Ministers to work together to provide the support and help that these children and young people need to keep them safe from sexual predators.”