431. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the legislation in place to prevent the grooming of children. [19022/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The Government takes the issue of sexual exploitation of children very seriously and there is comprehensive legislation in place to deal with these offences.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act was enacted in early 2017. It is a wide-ranging piece of legislation, which significantly enhances laws to combat the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children. Specific offences have been provided for in this Act to target the recognised steps in what is often a gradual process of grooming a victim.
Among the provisions of the 2017 Act are measures to strengthen significantly the existing criminal law in combatting child exploitation and, in particular, to address the use of modern communication technologies as a tool which may lead to child sexual exploitation.
Deputies will be aware that sophisticated grooming often involves seemingly innocent contact with, or befriending of, a child, perhaps through text messaging, social media or messaging apps. This may be followed by the exposure of the child to sexual images or content. Section 8 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 provides for a specific offence of using information and communications technology to communicate with a child for the purposes of sexual exploitation. The new offence will allow An Garda Síochána to investigate and bring to justice online predators and carries a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment.
Section 8 of the Sexual Offences Act 2017 also includes an offence of sending sexually explicit material to a child. This is in recognition that the intention behind this type of activity may be to expose the child to such material with a view to developing the child’s familiarity with such material or activity so as to facilitate the production of pornography or to meet the child for the purposes of sexual exploitation. The penalty for this offence is up to 5 years imprisonment.
Deputies will also be aware that child trafficking and exploitation (including the production of child pornography) are criminalised under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998, as amended by Section 3 of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 amended the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006 to raise the maximum penalty for engaging in a sexual act with a child who is under the age of 17 years from 5 to 7 years' imprisonment. Furthermore, the 2017 Act amends the 2006 Act to raise the maximum penalty for attempting to engage in a sexual act with a child under the age of 17 years from 2 to 7 years imprisonment.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006 also provides that the maximum penalty for engaging in a sexual act with a child under the age of 15 years is life imprisonment and the same penalty applies to attempting to engage in a sexual act with a child under the age of 15 years.