Advocating for the Protection of Children from Exploitation and Abuse in the Commonwealth and Beyond

It is estimated that one in eight children are sexually abused worldwide,

which amounts to 12.7% of the world’s children – many of whom live in the Commonwealth.


The CLA is pleased to have been invited by the charity, It’s a Penalty, to join their work on advocating for change.

Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (CSEA) is an increasingly global human rights issue. Millions of children are being abused by offenders with impunity across the world.  Of these offences committed against children, only a small percentage result in justice against the perpetrators. No country is immune to CSEA.

Over the last two years, the CLA has supported It’s a Penalty in its research analysing the criminalisation of CSEA, gaps in the prosecution of offences and protection of children and efforts made towards prevention of CSEA across 21 Commonwealth members states from four regions (Africa, Asia the Americas and the Pacific).

Working closely with lawyers and child rights’ advocates in the 21 countries in the Commonwealth, the aim was to encourage necessary legal reform to address gaps and better protect children.

The results of this comprehensive research have now been published and in a special address on Wednesday 11th May for the launch of the report, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, highly commended the report:

“Thank you to the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and It’s a Penalty for producing this report. Today, we acknowledge that despite the effort put in place by different actors such as parents, governments, academics, civil society and media to protect children from sexual exploitation, there is still work to be done. Our Commonwealth is committed to a world where young people can thrive; sexual exploitation and abuse hinders growth to children. If not us, who? If not now, when?”

CLA President Brian Speers said:

The CLA are thrilled to have supported It’s a Penalty in producing this important piece of research. As a Commonwealth-accredited organisation, we know the power that the Commonwealth has to affect change, and we are honoured to be a part of the CommonProtect mission to address child sexual exploitation and abuse on a Commonwealth-wide scale.”

The report found variance in the legal age of consent and inconsistencies between laws, despite all countries having signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which defines a child as under 18 years. 10 of the countries studied do not clearly define a child as under the age of 18. Only five countries define the age of consent as 18 years old, 12 countries define it as 16 years old and four define it as under 16 years old. In some countries, the age of consent is not clearly defined. Without a clearly defined age of consent, children are left vulnerable to child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA).

Harmful cultural practices contribute to abuse in many countries. Only 6 countries have criminalised child marriage sufficiently. Whilst laws against marrying a child exist, often there are loopholes such as parental permission overriding the law. Female circumcision is often linked to child marriage and, although countries may have anti-FGM legislation in place, prosecutions rarely take place.

18 out of the 21 countries analysed have not sufficiently addressed all forms of human trafficking. Furthermore, the report finds that the sexual exploitation of children in the travel and tourism sector (SECTT) is a growing issue in many Commonwealth countries. Extraterritorial legislation is an essential legal facility to ensure travelling perpetrators can be brought to justice, but only nine of the 21 countries have extraterritorial jurisdiction over CSEA offences.

The CommonProtect report found that laws in 10 of the 21 countries studied are not advanced enough to deal with the growing challenge of online CSEA. Rapid advances in technology, as well as the recent Covid-19 pandemic and associated school closures and lockdowns, have led to the emergence of new forms of exploitation and abuse. Countries urgently need to adapt their current legal frameworks to increase child safety online.

Another key finding is that many laws use outdated terminology with language dating back to colonial times. Boys are also often excluded from protective barriers because laws criminalising CSEA only apply to girls. Out of the 21 countries studied, 13 of them have provisions in their laws that exclude boys. Laws against homosexuality also contribute to poorer protections for children, particularly boys, who are abused by offenders of the same sex.

Even where comprehensive laws exist, implementation is lacking, and prosecution rates are low. Limitations in policing were often cited as reasons for this, as a result of a lack of resources or insufficient training for the proper investigation and prosecution of these crimes. Throughout the Commonwealth, survivors face many barriers in their search for justice, especially those from rural areas. Worryingly, there is also widespread public mistrust in the criminal justice system as a result of corruption and delays and backlogs of court cases.

The report finds that all Commonwealth countries can take steps to better protect children. Legal reform alone is not enough. Improved implementation and enforcement of laws, more comprehensive and fully resourced child protection systems, and increased awareness and education are also imperative. The report concludes with an extensive list of priority recommendations to create a Commonwealth where all children are protected from sexual exploitation and abuse.

Please click on the following links to read the Report

Full Report

Executive Summary


It’s A Penalty is a UK Bases NGO working globally to end abuse, exploitation and human trafficking. Please visit their website for further information