We need to do more to help protect vulnerable children and young people from harm, abuse and neglect. The Children’s Society’s ‘Seriously Awkward’ campaign/’Old enough to know better?’ report estimates that around 500,000 16 and 17-year-olds are at particular risk of harm.
The Children’s Society have helped raise awareness of the current shortcomings in legal protections and service provision that some 16 and 17 year olds can experience, and their recent ‘Old enough to know better?’ report makes a number of important recommendations to address this.
Amongst these recommendations is the extension of Child Abduction Warning Notices (CAWNs) to 16 and 17-year-olds. The Opposition tabled an amendment to the Serious Crime Act 2015 in the last Parliament to put CAWNs on a statutory footing, and this would have been an important improvement.
I urge the Government to look again at how 16 and 17-year-olds can be protected by CAWNs, and their upcoming Policing and Criminal Justice Bill will provide a good opportunity to send a strong message that sexual offences against 16 and 17-year-olds must always be treated seriously. I also believe that the sentencing guidelines on sexual offences should be amended to reflect the seriousness of a crime against a young person aged 16 or 17.
The recent debate in the House of Commons on December 17 2015 around the Children’s Society’s report, and the issues that it raises, provided an important opportunity to debate and press the Government on these matters.
I hope that the Government carefully consider the ‘Old enough to know better?’ report and continue to work with local authorities and dedicated organisations, such as The Children’s Society, to ensure that key concerns over child safeguarding, homelessness and neglect are properly addressed.