Child sexting law not being enforced in UK

The law was enacted two years ago to prevent adults from sending sexually explicit messages to children

New laws that make it a criminal offence for an adult to send sexually explicit messages to a child under 16 are still not being enforced in the UK after two years, child protection campaigners have said.

However, the National Society for Preventing Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) which campaigned for the law, said no start date has been set to bring the new law into force, meaning police cannot charge anyone with the offence.

The offence, which updated existing laws to include sexting and other online communications, was made a criminal act under section 67 of the Serious Crime Act in March 2015.

If enforced, the law would mean anyone over 18 in England and Wales who sent a sexually explicit message to a child, or attempted to elicit the child to send something explicit themselves, could face up to two years in prison.

Labour MP Louise Haigh, shadow minister for the digital economy, wrote to the justice secretary, Liz Truss, saying the failure to enforce the law some 23 months after it was enacted was "leaving our children at risk from grooming"

Theresa May, then home secretary, expressed her support for the offence in the Commons in 2014 before it was inserted into the bill. “We do need to be able to intervene early so predatory behaviour is tackled before a child is put at risk,” she said.

The government’s own assessment argued the new law was “necessary to ... allow authorities to intervene earlier to prevent more serious offending against children” and to bring offences up-to-date with modern communications. However, The Guardian reports that research from the House of Commons library confirmed the offence was still not being officially enforced.

On Thursday, the home secretary, Amber Rudd, said the government would commit an additional £40m for a package of measures to tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse online, including an additional £20m for the National Crime Agency.

Definition of grooming

The definition of localised grooming as given in a Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre document is "a form of sexual exploitation – previously referred to as ‘on street grooming’ in the media - where children have been groomed and sexually exploited by an offender, having initially met in a location outside their home".

However, the centre also acknowledges the process of grooming can take place over the internet. 

Sexual grooming of children over the internet is most prevalent (99% of cases) among the 13–17 age group, particularly 13–14 year old children (48%). The majority of them are girls. The majority of the victimization occurs with mobile phone support.