Violence, abuse and neglect, and child sexual exploitation – UK Government assessment
There have been legal or policy changes to improve human rights protections but very limited evidence of sustained improvements in the enjoyment of human rights on this issue
The UK Government has taken some policy and legislative steps to address aspects of violence, abuse and neglect, including its proposals in the draft Online Safety Bill and ratification of the Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. However, prosecution rates and support for victims of violence, abuse and neglect both remain low, and the UK Government has not taken sufficient steps to improve protections for children, such as tackling unnecessary surgical interventions on intersex children.
- In 2019–20, there were 475,560 concerns of abuse raised in England under adult safeguarding rules representing a 30% increase from 2016–17.
- In the year ending March 2020, 7.5% of disabled men and 14.7% of disabled women had experienced domestic abuse in the past year, compared with 3.2% of non-disabled men and 6% of non-disabled women.
- There were around 227,500 identifiable cases of child abuse recorded in the year ending March 2019; of these, around one in 25 of cases resulted in a charge or summons. Evidential difficulties meant that in the year ending March 2019, 49% of police-recorded child abuse crimes did not progress further through the criminal justice system.
- The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is likely to have led to a rise in abuse, with evidence showing that, following the introduction of a national lockdown in 2020, the number of contacts from people concerned about children living in homes with domestic abuse rose by 49%.
- In 2019–20, across the UK (excluding Scotland) police recorded 10,391 sexual offences against children involving an online element– an increase of 16% from the previous year.
- The interim code of practice on online child sexual exploitation and abuse is a welcome development, though compliance remains voluntary.
- Support services for survivors of child sexual abuse do not meet survivors’ needs, according to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, and almost 73% of respondents in a 2020 survey had not accessed support services.
- The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel found in March 2020 that the safeguarding system is unable to prevent serious incidents or death: over half of the 534 children who died or were injured from 2018 to 2019 were already known to children’s social services at the time of the incident.
- Parents and those acting ‘in loco parentis’ who are charged with the common assault of a child can still rely on the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ in England, despite the removal of this defence in Wales and Scotland.
- So-called ‘honour-based violence’ persists across the UK. Experimental data shows that in 2019–20 the police recorded 2,024 cases in England and Wales involving ‘honour-based’ abuse. However, there are concerns that many more offences go unreported and prosecutions for these offences are low.
- There has been no progress to protect intersex children from the continuing practice of unnecessary surgical interventions, despite recommendations from the UN Committee against Torture to prevent these procedures and provide redress for those affected.
- The UK Government has not repealed sections 134(4) or (5) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, as recommended by the UN Committee against Torture, and not initiated an absolute prohibition of torture, leaving defences against prosecution for torture when a defendant asserts to have ‘lawful authority, justification or excuse’.
Read more about the UK Government’s actions on violence, abuse and neglect, and child sexual exploitation.