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Christian charity praises Gov decision to include church leaders in child abuse laws

Christian safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight has hailed the Government's decision to expand the definition of positions of trust as a 'significant step' to improving child protection.  

Faith leaders and sports coaches will now be included in regulations that already ban teachers, social workers and others in positions of power from engaging in sexual activity with 16 and 17-year-olds.

Under current UK law, the age of consent to engage in sexual activity is 16 but this rises to 18 when one person is in a position of trust. 

The changes follow a campaign by several organisations, including Thirtyone:eight and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Safeguarding in Faith Settings. 

Following a report by the APPG in January 2020 on the issue, churches, faith groups, charities and other professional groups started calling for a change in the law to help better protect 16 and 17-year-olds from sexual abuse in faith settings.

Justin Humphreys, joint-CEO of Thirtyone:eight and current Chair of the Christian Forum for Safeguarding said he welcomes the changes as it means the UK is moving forward.

"We have yet to see the detail within the bill and will be keeping a close eye on how this develops," he said. "Simply extending the existing list of those roles or positions that may fall in scope of the law is insufficient to afford the best protections for young people," he continued.  

Calling it an opportunity to "correct the mistakes of the past", deputy director of The Christian Institute, Ciarán Kelly said this was "long overdue". 

"We've been saying for more than twenty years that the Abuse of Trust offence is far too narrow. It was always obvious to us that leaving sports coaches, religious leaders and the like out of the scope of the law would put vulnerable young people at risk.

"We're pleased that this Government is finally taking action to correct the mistakes of the past. It must now make sure the changes are watertight." 

The new Police and Crime Bill will also include tougher sentences for violent and sexual offenders.

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