News / Slider / February 23, 2015

Nicola calls for greater protection for children at risk

Nicola is seeking to reform the Serious Crime Bill to try and strengthen the role of Child Abduction Warning Notices (CAWNs) so that they could be used to protect 16-18 year olds from abduction and sexual abuse.

The Serious Crime Bill brings forward a number of measures to protect children from abuse and neglect, including from sexual abuse and also from female genital mutilation. Nicola has worked extensively in this area- she got the Home Affairs Select Committee to undertake an inquiry into localised child grooming and has successfully campaigned for a change in the law with the introduction of Sexual Harm Prevention Orders which allow police to step in earlier and disrupt grooming gangs and prevent sexual abuse. She has also campaigned for reforms to protect vulnerable witnesses in court.

But Nicola is deeply concerned about a gap in the legislation in relation to CAWNs, which are used by police to disrupt contact between children and harmful adults. At the moment, CAWNs apply only to children aged 15 and under and children in care. However, 35% of all missing incidents reported to the police are related to children aged 15-17 which is more than any other age group.

Therefore Nicola’s amendment would have enabled CAWNs to be used to protect 16 to 18 year olds, whether or not they lived at home, and still be able to be implemented swiftly by police without having to gather increased evidence and apply through the courts.

She also wants to see the Government working with the College of Policing to develop guidance on how CAWNs fit with other tools such as Sexual Harm Orders, trafficking orders and gang injunctions now available to police. Nicola will therefore continue to push for this, and looks forward to the Bill progressing to the House of Lords in early March.

To read Nicola’s full contribution to the debate and the Minister’s response follow this link:

Nicola says: I am disappointed I have not been able to get Government support for these reforms yet and that the Government has not found a way to address this serious problem. Despite this age group being the most likely to go missing the police simply don’t have the same powers to act when they suspect a 16 and 17 year old is at risk of abduction. CAWNs are a vital part of the toolkit in addressing child sexual exploitation, and enable the police to intervene quickly and effectively where children are at risk of CSE and where grooming gangs are operating, but this should be available up to the age of 18 and whether or not they happen to be living at home.

I will continue to challenge the Government to find a way to close this gap, whether it be through a legislative means or not. These are despicable crimes committed against the most vulnerable of victims and absolutely it is our job to ensure the police and other agencies are fully equipped to protect victims and prevent abuse.


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