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House of Lords Hansard
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Safeguarding Children: British Overseas Territories
13 April 2016
Volume 771

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made to safeguard children in the British Overseas Territories.

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My Lords, the UK Government work closely with the territories to promote the welfare of children in their jurisdictions, where the protection of children’s rights remains primarily the responsibility of territory Governments. There has been steady progress but more work is needed. In December, OT leaders committed to lead national responses and ensure child-centred, co-ordinated approaches to safeguarding. The UK Government continue to work with territory Governments on this important agenda.

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I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. However, we all know that the British Overseas Territories are not the only places where child sex abuse is happening. When I visited some of those territories recently, I found that they are in denial that this abuse is happening; it is a taboo subject. Children are suffering in silence. How are the Government not only encouraging and supporting all the overseas territories to sign up to the road map but also exchanging information on safeguarding to tackle this major problem, thereby helping, protecting and educating children, so that they grow up free from the fear of sexual abuse?

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My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that this is not specific to the overseas territories; it is a global problem and requires all of us to take responsibility for looking at how we can resolve it and take practical measures. I pay tribute to her work as a parliamentarian and outside Parliament on these matters.

In practical terms, we have established a dedicated child safeguarding unit to co-ordinate our support to the OT authorities; specifically in relation to her Question, we have decided that in addition to financial support, professional staff and technical support, we will shortly launch a cross-OT child safeguarding network, which will fulfil our commitment made at the Joint Ministerial Council. That is the body through which we can share the latest sector developments in child protection, as the noble Baroness requests.

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My Lords, in this country we are fortunate in having a strong voluntary sector which operates in the field of safeguarding children. Is there any equivalent voluntary sector in the overseas territories that does the same type of job in safeguarding?

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My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important point. The overseas territories are of course very diverse in their population level and engagement in civil society organisations and NGOs. There are international NGOs that can assist in this and, in some areas, there are local ones. For example, there was a notable achievement in Bermuda, where the Government partnered a local NGO, Saving Children and Revealing Secrets. This was done last year to deliver child sexual abuse training across the whole island. We support CSOs and NGOs wherever we can and help them to develop because, in some areas where they feel isolated, it is very difficult.

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My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will join me in congratulating ChildLine, as it reaches its 30th year, on the work that it has done to ensure that helplines are available not only in this country but by developing the international helpline organisation in many countries across the world. What are the Government doing additionally to help adults to have helplines? The Lucy Faithfull Foundation has its own helpline for adults but unless we can tackle adults and get them to come forward then it is left to the children to do so, and that is not where the issue should be left.

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In this case, too, the noble Baroness raises an important issue of ensuring that those who are abused—the children—have a voice but that those who are the abusers are also able to seek information and be persuaded that that is not the behaviour which they should perpetrate. I know that a number of overseas territories have expressed a desire to establish a private and confidential counselling service for vulnerable children and young people, along the ChildLine model that the noble Baroness explained. With regard to working with adults, we can do that work through our support to NGOs and CSOs and also through DfID, in the support that we give to promoting education about the way to change adults’ attitude towards social norms.

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My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Her Majesty’s Government are to be congratulated on the relationship between the overseas territories and the relevant departments here in the UK? I speak from first-hand experience of the Cayman Islands, where I declare an interest—

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I declare an interest in having a member of my family working there. In the Cayman Islands, with its population of just over 60,000, is it not correct that the Governor has a relationship with local government? Is it not also correct that the charity work there is really extensive? As far as I can see, there are fewer problems of child exploitation in the Cayman Islands per capita than in the United Kingdom.

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My Lords, the Cayman Islands has commissioned a UK children’s services professional to look at raising standards and safeguarding. I hope that other islands will follow that example.

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My Lords, the Minister referred to the responsibility of the British Government in relation to the 17 overseas territories but of course the principles of the rule of law, openness and transparency are vital. Can she therefore explain why the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is not pressing for a central register of ownership, open to the public, so that all can see how beneficial ownership operates in these territories?

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My Lords, I know that we have a somewhat generous approach to interpreting the words before us on the Order Paper, but may I urge the noble Lord to direct his question at me again when we reach the point next Wednesday at which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, has a Question on the Order Paper that will give me the opportunity to answer him?

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My Lords—

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My Lords—

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Cross Bench!

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My Lords, the House is signalling for the Cross Bench and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.

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My Lords, the Minister is no doubt aware that some of the overseas territories have laws on family issues which are considerably behind the laws of this country. To what extent are the Government giving assistance to having a modern version of the Children Act in some of those countries?

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The noble and learned Baroness has long professional experience in these matters. In October last year, our Solicitor-General chaired a successful conference of overseas territories Attorneys-General. This was to provide an important forum for encouraging progress on our priorities for the OTs and delivering our obligations for supporting the rule of law and the administration of justice, including matters of reform such as those she refers to.