The Bill still has to be debated and approved in the Lower House before it becomes law, but residents who commit sexual assaults against Bermudian-based children overseas will soon face prosecution on the island.
According to Senator Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, the Bill represents an “important component” of the wide-ranging legislation that saw unanimous support in the Upper House yesterday (July 17).
The Act “addresses the circumstances of child sexual abuse that could not be prosecuted due to jurisdictional issues”, she said.
“These usually entail evidence implicating local suspects having molested local children while overseas.
“Given the frequency of travel of our population to foreign jurisdictions, this issue is of particular concern. The Bill will amend the Criminal Code to allow prosecution in these particular circumstances.”
The Child Safeguarding (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act 2019 would bring the island’s laws in line with an internationally recognised “gold standard” on child protection.
The Bill carries harsher penalties for child sex abuse offenders in cases with aggravating factors and the removal of a time line for prosecution.
The legislation also seeks to amend six parts of Acts to ensure that sexual offences against children are prioritised.
“As a government and as a community, we are all concerned about the safeguarding of our children,” said Senator Simmons.
“The Government is committed to doing everything that we can to prevent the maltreatment of our children and to protect their right to grow and thrive in a safe environment.
“In particular the Bill aims to prevent and combat sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, protect the rights of child victims of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, and promote national and international co-operation against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children.
“This Bill will bring Bermuda into compliance with the internationally recognised standards set by the Lanzarote Convention.
“The improvements we are seeking today with this Bill will further strengthen our child safeguarding regime and modernise our approach to sexual offences in general,” she added.
The Bill would amend the definition of “child to mean someone under the age of 18 and includes harsher penalties for “aggravating factors” in cases that seriously damaged the victim’s physical or mental health, or cases involving torture or violence.
Tougher penalties for offenders who are related to, or shares a home with a victim are included.
Sen Simmons also noted that “there are currently many criminal offences prescribed in law that can only be committed against a female child”.
“If the same acts were committed against a male child, they would not be prosecutable,” she said.
“This is a longstanding omission in our laws attributable to social values and perceptions that pertained at the time these laws were enacted which are not in alignment with current realities and sensibilities.
“The Bill ensures equal protection under the law for all children with increased penalties for the offenders.”
The new Bill also “permits a child’s evidence to be pre-recorded in the absence of the jury and the accused” and “the recording may be accepted as evidence during court proceedings”.
“By so doing, child victims will be afforded the protection of being heard in the courtroom without being present through the use of appropriate communication technologies.”
- Feature Photo Supplied: Minister Kathy Lynn Simmons with members of Bermuda Government Child Safeguarding stakeholders