Tuesday November 19, 2002

Alan Travis
Home Affairs Editor

Life sentence part of new child prostitution laws

Any adult who pays for sex from a child under the age of 18 will face prosecution and a severe penalty — up to life imprisonment — under a tightening of the prostitution laws to be announced today.

The new offence of commercial sexual exploitation of a child will mean that for the first time anyone who uses an under-age prostitute — even if they are 16 or 17 — will face a specific criminal charge of buying sex with a child and heavy penalties.

It is designed to set an unambiguous standard in society that it is wrong for an adult to buy or deal in the sexual services of a child. It is expected to include "pimps" who sell children for sex and will cover those involved in making pornography as well as prostitution.

David Blunkett, the home secretary, is expected to announce the change of the child prostitution laws today when he publishes the white paper setting out a reform of the laws on sexual offences and sexual offenders which date back to the 19th century.

Mr Blunkett is also expected to confirm that he is to remove the remaining discrimination against gay people by abolishing the offences of buggery, gross indecency and soliciting by men, which is known more popularly as "cottaging". However, the home secretary is expected to announce a new public order offence of sexual behaviour that causes alarm or offence to others in a public place.

The new child prostitution offence will recognise that people who sexually exploit children for their own gain — irrespective of whether they participate in any sexual activity with the child — are responsible for that abuse and should be treated by the law accordingly.

It will cover all children up to the age of 18 and it will not be a defence for a person to claim that a girl of 16 or 17 had told him she was older. The new law will put the responsibility firmly on those who buy sexual services to ensure that they are over 18.

The proposed penalties for the new law for buying or dealing in the sexual services of a child are expected to be severe. Sex with a child under 13 will carry a life sentence, between the ages 13 and 15 may attract a maximum 14-year prison sentence, and seven years in cases when the child is 16 to 17. The law will regard the child involved in prostitution as a victim and they will not face charges. This is not an offence at present.

Offenders can be charged with having sex with a child but this will for the first time recognise that there is a financial element involved in child prostitution and that children are lured into it to make money for others.

There will also be a battery of allied offences, including recruiting a child into prostitution or pornography, which will carry a maximum penalty of 14 years.

The existing law carries only a two-year penalty, does not include boys and can only apply to a person in charge of a child. A similar offence will double the penalty for pimping children from 7 to 14 years.

The new law will also cover those who do not actually engage in any sexually activity with the child but make arrangements for them to be prostituted.

The white paper is also expected to include a much more comprehensive law against the trafficking of children for prostitution which will take account of the new child prostitution laws.

It will cover people moving from one place to another within Britain as well as across international borders. The new offence will carry a maximum penalty of 14 years.

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Created: November 19, 2002
Last modified: November 19, 2002
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