Child Abuse Convictions Up By 50%

The number of people convicted for abusing children has increased by nearly 50% in the past six years, according to figures released by the Scottish Executive. The charges include cruelty to children, sexual abuse and grooming children for sexual purposes.

Senior social work officials have warned the problem is growing across Scotland as a result of substance misuse and that the number of successful convictions makes up only a tiny proportion of the problem.

Experts estimate fewer than one in 50 sexual offences results in a criminal conviction.

In 1999, there were 368 people convicted for charges involving a child victim. By 2005 this figures increased to 545.

Michelle Miller, the spokeswoman on children and families for the Association of Directors of Social Work, said the figures are indicative of a wider problem.

Some 12,185 children were looked after by local authorities on March 31, 2005, 4% higher than the previous year.

“There are a number of reasons as to why this is going up,” Ms Miller said. “One is the very significant increase in substance misuse. It is a growing problem and that is why we are in such an extremely difficult position both financially and in terms of the physical resources we have available to look after these children.

“Those at significant risk of harm are placed on the child protection register but this is artificial as by definition the number who have already been placed in foster care or in residential care are no longer on the register as they are no longer considered to be at risk.”

Recent statistics show 2791 children were registered for protection in 2005/06, 48% more than 1999/2000, according to statistics compiled by the Scottish Executive. Figures in the past year alone rose 24% for physical abuse to 779; 33% for sexual abuse to 301 and 18% for emotional abuse to 442. In nearly four out of five cases, the child’s known or suspected abuser was his or her natural parent.

Social work officials said the figures are even more concerning when seen in light of the funding gap of more than £160m a year identified for core children’s services by Professor Arthur Midwinter. The figures for convictions were obtained by the SNP.

Stewart Stevenson, the SNP’s deputy justice spokesman, said: “The increase is a worrying statistic, but we must not forget that each case is a child’s story of victimisation and misery.

“We as a society need to protect the vulnerable and unfortunately children are seen as vulnerable prey to those that have unsavoury thoughts and intent towards them.”

A Scottish Executive spokesman said: “Every offence against a child is an abhorrent act and clearly it concerns all of us that there are people out there who are prepared – either through malice or neglect – to put children at risk.

“Those who do so should be punished in the courts – but punishment and rehabilitation is only part of the answer. That’s why we have made the protection of our young people a central part of our work.
“That’s why we passed legislation to give the police new powers to protect young people from sexual harm.

“We have toughened the law around sex offenders to give the police the powers they need to supervise and monitor the activities of these people in the community.”