Hundreds of Britons were arrested for child sex offences overseas in the last five years, new figures have shown, amid concerns the numbers are just the “tip of the iceberg”.
There were 361 requests from UK nationals for consular assistance after being arrested for child sex offences from 2013 to 2017, according to Foreign Office data.
But Labour’s Sarah Champion (Rotherham) said the number of arrests could be far higher.
She told the Press Association that in some parts of the world people would be able to buy their way out of trouble without contacting the consulate if they were caught abusing a child.
“If you are in a backwater in Indonesia and you get caught raping a child, I would imagine that if you’ve got dollars on you, you could probably get out of it,” she said.
According to the figures, the Foreign Office responded to 124 requests from UK nationals arrested for child sex offences in the US, 40 in Australia and 39 in Spain over the five-year period.
In Indonesia four cases were recorded, while there were five in the Philippines and three in India.
Ms Champion, who has long campaigned against child sexual exploitation, said she thought the variation was due to tougher legislative processes in some countries.
She said she believed people were “deliberately” travelling in order to abuse children, and said: “I have no doubt that the sort of perpetrators will know where they are most likely to go and exploit a child and will be deliberately going there.
“The conclusion we have to come to is that it is a sick world we live in.”
Ms Champion said she felt “utter disgust” when she saw the figures, and said it “turns my stomach” that the Government “knows that people are intentionally going abroad to abuse children but that we are not doing more, that I’m aware, to prevent it”.
“I am convinced that this is a tiny, tiny, tip of the iceberg – the figures that we’re seeing – so the actual scale of it is going to be pretty huge I would have thought.”
The figures were published in response to a parliamentary question from Ms Champion, who asked the Foreign Secretary “what information his Department holds on the number of UK nationals who have been arrested for child sex offences overseas in the last five years; and in what countries such nationals have been arrested over that period”.
Foreign Office minister Harriett Baldwin replied: “From 2013 to 2017 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) responded to 361 requests for consular assistance from UK nationals who had been arrested for child sex offences.
“The FCO are not routinely notified of the arrest of all UK nationals overseas.
“The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963 (Article 36) provides for an embassy to be informed of an arrest only if the individual requests it.”
A breakdown of the figures showed there were 58 cases in 2013, 63 in 2014, 82 in 2015, 80 in 2016 and 78 in 2017.
Bharti Patel, chief executive of children’s rights organisation ECPAT UK, said the figures were likely to be a “fraction” of the total arrests made.
She said: “These statistics represent only a minority of abuses against children across the globe, due to a lack of sufficient data monitoring systems and reporting mechanisms.
“This leaves abuses unreported and unheard and children left unprotected.”
Ms Patel called on the Government to strengthen its “data monitoring systems, reporting mechanisms and joint investigative capacities in regions of high incidence of child sexual exploitation”.
“Our Government must take responsibility for these crimes committed by British nationals and prevent these crimes taking place against vulnerable children abroad.”