The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) concluded that the full scale of abuse perpetrated by British nationals and residents to children overseas was ‘undoubtedly extensive’ and is facilitated both by international travel and the internet – via live streaming sexual abuse. An area of the world where this is a particular problem is Southeast Asia, as children in poverty are exploited.

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) plays an important role in safeguarding children in the UK from abuse. For those who will be undertaking a regulated activity, an enhanced DBS check needs to be done. A regulated activity is a job role that involves working with children in an unsupervised capacity on three or more occasions within a 30-day period.

Recommendation 11 of IICSA recommends that legislation should be introduced permitting the DBS to provide enhanced certificates with barred list checks to citizens of England and Wales applying for:

  • Work or volunteering with UK based organisations where the recruitment decision is taken outside the UK
  • Work or volunteering with organisations based outside the UK, in which case the work or volunteering would be a regulated activity if in England and Wales.

This would expand the disclosure regime to those who are working overseas with children, for example, in schools or with charities. As it stands, DBS checks on nationals or residents of England and Wales cannot be accessed by employers based overseas. The non-statutory International Child Protection Certificate, which some overseas organisations use, does not include access to the DBS children’s barred list. This presents a serious risk of abuse and exploitation to children overseas.

It is unclear what form the recommended legislation will take. It is not possible to make it mandatory for companies that are not subject to English law to apply for these enhanced checks. So, it remains to be seen what, if anything, the government will do with this recommendation. 

If the recommendation is implemented, the process of accessing these enhanced checks and the barred lists will need to be relatively simple and streamlined to ensure it is effective. Employers will not be interested in hiring or taking on volunteers if the enhanced DBS checks are taking too long.

Organisations working overseas or with overseas nationals should in any event be ensuring that all possible checks are undertaking and training provided to endeavour to protect children wherever they live. Organisations who do not may find themselves facing the consequences of such failings in the future, including claims pursued in one jurisdiction for things which happened many miles away.