Children could be put at risk if the UK leaves the EU without putting contingency plans in place for child protection, the UK’s four children’s commissioners have said in a letter.
Child abuse and exploitation, the abduction of children and how family law matters are dealt with if a child has one parent from the EU were all “immediate concerns” the czars said they have as Brexit approaches.
The government must explain how the UK will work with countries in the EU to protect children as it was unclear whether current child protection protocols will continue after 29 March.
In the letter, the commissioners sought assurances from Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay on what they say are the “immediate issues facing children” arising from Brexit.
Anne Longfield (England), Sally Holland (Wales), Bruce Adamson (Scotland) and
Koulla Yiasouma (Northern Ireland) said they continue to have reservations “about the degree to which children have been engaged and considered” during the Brexit process.
The letter from the four outlined the areas they were most worried about, which included co-operation on child protection and law enforcement as strategies for the prevention of child abuse and exploitation often involved international collaboration.
“The viewing and sharing of child abuse images nearly always involves a network, often international. This means an offender may be discovered elsewhere in the EU, but resident and presenting a threat to children in the UK. At present, pan-EU co-operation protocols enable such information to be shared swiftly.”
The letter said similar issues apply to children who are trafficked into the UK. “Generally, these children will arrive from Europe, even if their home country was outside the EU. Co-operation in identifying and tracking these children is vital both in protecting these children, giving aid to victims, closing down the networks, and ensuring perpetrators are brought to justice.
“The importance of doing this does not end when children are identified within the UK, as a large proportion of child trafficking victims who are identified then go missing, and may end up in the EU.”
The commissioners said issues could arise with children who are abducted and taken to a European country. The co-operation of EU member states is vital when working together to protect the child, they added.
“This is just one of many examples where the European Arrest Warrant, and other associated aspects of police co-operation, is used to keep children safe,” they wrote.
“If we were to continue to have visa-free travel between Britain and the EU, yet not have the police and security co-operation underpinning this, the system would have serious and immediate weaknesses that undermine the protection of children.
“We need to ensure that strong child protection protocols, including information-sharing, are in place as soon as we lose EU co-operation.”
The commissioners asked the government to explain the status of the UK in these matters and to lay-out the no deal contingency plan for protocols for trafficking, abuse images and abduction.
Family law was another area of concern. “There are, and will continue to be, numerous EU national children in contact with children’s services across the UK, and children, including UK national children, who have a parent living elsewhere in the EU.
“Ongoing co-operation between jurisdictions, including mutual recognition of civil child protection cases is vital for the immediate safety of the children concerned,” they said.
Criminal records and vetting was the final area of concern the commissioners raised, citing the large number of EU nationals working in childcare positions across the UK.
The commissioners asked: “Can you please explain the immediate contingency planning for co-operating on staff vetting in the case of no deal, and the long-term plans for collaboration on the issuing of DBS checks if the withdrawal agreement is ratified?
“We would be grateful if you could also provide assurances that consideration has been given to how these arrangements will apply to people travelling across the Irish Border.”
The Department for Exiting the EU has been approached by HuffPost UK for a comment.