Child sex abusers such as Gary Glitter - who was free to travel to Asia to attack young girls - must be banned from travelling abroad to commit further attacks, a government-ordered inquiry has warned.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has today published its report on the protection of children outside the UK.
It found that the sexual abuse of children by British nationals outside of the UK to be “extensive”. For example, between 2013 and 2017, 361 UK nationals requested consular assistance abroad after being arrested for child sex offences. However, these figures are likely to represent “a fraction of the overall numbers of offenders,” the researchers said.
In February, the Inquiry heard evidence of such abuse in countries including Kenya, Uganda, Malaysia, India, the Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia,Thailand and Myanmar. It is clear that children are particularly vulnerable in places with high levels of poverty and corruption, the report said, and that disaster areas can also pose risks for children.
Publishing its findings, the Inquiry concluded that gaps in the legal system are allowing sex offenders such as Gary Glitter and Richard Huckle to travel abroad and target vulnerable children in less developed countries.
It said that "more radical measures" need to be taken to increase the number of foreign travel restriction orders being made, and suggested a national action plan to "help ensure a coordinated response on the issue and also raise public awareness".
The inquiry found that as of March 31 2018, only around 0.2% of the 58,637 registered sex offenders in England and Wales had their foreign travel restricted.
It also found that disaster areas, particularly those in poorer countries, acted as a magnet for sexual abusers. The report cited the cases of Glitter and Huckle as highlighting issues where systems failed to protect children.
Shamed rockstar Glitter, real name Paul Gadd, admitted possessing child pornography images, and was sentenced to four months in 1999. However he was still able to travel to Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
In 2002, he was expelled from Cambodia over unspecified allegations, and in March 2006 he was convicted of sexually abusing two girls, aged 10 and 11, in Vietnam.
Glitter was later found guilty of abuse relating to a girl aged 12, one of 13, and another aged under 10, committed when he was at the height of his fame in the 1970s and 1980s. He was jailed for 16 years in 2015.
Huckle, one of Britain's most prolific paedophiles, went on to groom and abuse scores of children in impoverished Malaysian communities by posing as a respectable Christian English teacher and philanthropist.
He was given 22 life sentences at the Old Bailey in 2016 for an unprecedented number of offences against children aged between six months and 12 years, but was stabbed to death in jail last year.
Measures applied to people convicted of a sexual offence - such as sexual harm prevention orders (SHPO) - have only had a minimal impact on restricting foreign travel, while others are still able to breach bans in an attempt to abuse outside of the UK, its report said.
The inquiry found a huge disparity between the high number of registered sex offenders and the low number of such orders banning foreign travel being made - where of the 5,550 SHPOs imposed in England and Wales in 2017/18, foreign travel restrictions were imposed in just 11 cases.
The report also found that the disclosure and barring system (DBS), including the International Child Protection Certificate which overseas institutions can request when recruiting British nationals, is "confusing, inconsistent and in need of reform".
Panel chairwoman Professor Alexis Jay said that the sexual abuse of children overseas by UK nationals “is an urgent problem we cannot hide from”.
"Current gaps in our legal system are allowing known offenders to travel abroad to target vulnerable children in less developed countries, and this is simply not acceptable.
"The panel and I hope this report and its recommendations will lead the authorities to tighten their grip on abusers who seek to exploit some of the most vulnerable children in the world."
The inquiry also made a number of recommendations, including creating a regularly updated list of countries where children face a significant risk of sexual abuse from overseas offenders, made available to authorities.
Police would also be encouraged to consult that list of countries to help identify whether a person who has been charged with sexual offences against a child poses a risk to children overseas based on their travel history, putting restrictions on foreign travel to those suspects.
Other recommendations include creating a national plan of action to address child abuse and exploitation, with input from all agencies, as well as new legislation tightening up disclosure rules - previously known as CRB checks - on British nationals working overseas.
Debbie Beadle, Director of Programmes at Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT UK), said: “We hope that by bringing these institutional failings to light, the UK can become a world leader in tackling the abuse of vulnerable children globally, and that child victims abroad are no longer ‘under the radar’ of authorities.”