Monday 24 October 2016

New law to target online predators is 'a priority' for Dail


Frances Fitzgerald
Frances Fitzgerald

Legislation outlawing grooming of children and young people on social media for sexual exploitation will be published before the Dail's summer recess.

A spokesman for Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the Sexual Offences Bill would be brought before the Oireachtas later this year.

It is "priority legislation" and drafting of the proposed new law was ongoing, he said.

The Justice Department statement was made in response to issues raised by the United Nations' Committee on the Rights of the Child, which asked the Government to detail what measures are in place to protect children from sexual exploitation, grooming, racial profiling and discrimination.


The UN body has set a four-month deadline for the Government to report back on the issues it has raised.

Catherine Cosgrave, legal services manager of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said the call by the UN committee for the Government to outline its plans to criminalise the solicitation of children for sexual purposes was "timely".

"The Government is also challenged as to why it has not ratified an international protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography - despite signing up to the agreement 15 years ago," she said.

The Minister for Justice spoke last December of the need for greater awareness of the risks posed to children and young people who share sensitive personal information online through social media and other communications technologies.

Key provisions of the new bill were made public by the minister seven months ago, who declared that it would be a criminal offence to engage in online communications for the purpose of grooming a child or young person for sexual exploitation.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2014 will strengthen laws combating child exploitation and will significantly focus on the use of modern communication technologies as a tool which may lead to child sexual exploitation.

Child sexual exploitation often occurs following a gradual process of grooming the victim.

Regularly, this would arise through seemingly innocent contact made via information and communication technology such as social media, messaging apps or online forums.

This type of technology can also be used to expose children to sexually explicit and inappropriate material.


Minister Fitzgerald has previously said: "The new offences also reflect the reality that predatory sexual activity to target children now takes place online, for example, via social media.

"This offence is targeted at the initial stages of grooming and does not require physical contact or meeting between the adult and child in question.

"The offence does not necessarily require that the communication contain a sexual advance or include sexual material, as these are not generally features of sophisticated grooming - but it does require that the communication is to facilitate the sexual exploitation of the child."

The penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment reflects the serious nature and intent behind the communication.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill proposes wide-ranging reforms, including targeting of child pornography.

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