Sexual offences bill criticised for ‘missed opportunity’

The passing of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill has been criticised for missing opportunities.

The bill passed through its final stage in the Seanad on Tuesday evening but the Ombudsman for Children said there were “inconsistencies” in how a child is defined in the legislation.

“I am, however, somewhat disappointed at the inconsistencies in addressing the definition of a child within this piece of legislation.

“The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) defines a child as a person under 18 years of age,” said Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children.

“However, in various sections of this act (the new sexual offences bill), a child is defined as a person under 15, under 17 and under 18,” he added.

Dr Muldoon described this as a “missed opportunity to definitively address inconsistencies in how we see children in legislation.”

Inclusion Ireland also said the newly passed legislation missed an opportunity.

“Inclusion Ireland has long advocated for a change in this law (from the Sexual Offences Act 1993), but it is regretful that an opportunity to adopt a disability-neutral approach to the criminal law has been missed,” read a statement from the body yesterday. The predecessor to the new legislation, the 1993 act, made sexual intercourse with a “mentally a impaired” person illegal.

Inclusion Ireland said yesterday it was “disappointed” that the new bill would continue to treat people with a disability in an unequal way.

“Through our advocacy work, Inclusion Ireland has seen the chilling effect of the legislation with educators and advocates afraid to provide support to individuals with disabilities or provide education for fear of encouragement of law-breaking,” said their head of policy and campaigns, Sarah Lennon.

“This bill was an opportunity to remove the restrictions on the rights of persons with disabilities and repeal an act that does nothing to protect persons, instead it is replicating many aspects of that act,” added Ms Lennon.

However, Ombudsman for Children Dr Muldoon did commend the newly-passed bill for several reasons, such as the recognition of new forms of sexual abuse and exploitation of children like child grooming.

“A safeguard against criminalisation of peer to peer consensual acts has been included, as has our recommendation to include the term ‘sexual act with a child,’ rather than defilement.

“These changes were long overdue,” said Dr Muldoon.

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