Malta's criminal code is to be amended to give prosecutors an additional five years to identify and charge child molesters in court. 

The new amendments will see the statute of limitations for sexual crimes committed against minors start ticking from the moment the victim turns 23, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis announced in a press conference on Monday.

Currently, the statute of limitations begins to run when a victim turns 18 and under Maltese law, sex abuse against minors is subject to a 15-year prescription period. 

The bill, which has cabinet approval and is due to be discussed in parliament in the coming weeks, will expand the law on sexual offences related to minors as well as other offences.

Laws relating to rape are set to expand to make a distinction between a number of non-consensual sexual acts. The law will make a distinction between rape involving sexual organs, non-consensual connection to other body parts and non-consensual connection to a foreign object.

The definition of sexual grooming will also be expanded to include proposing to meet a person under 16 for sexual purposes, even if no such meeting takes place.

Zammit Lewis said a number of amendments will also be made to the criminal code “to close loopholes and strengthen the protection of minors”.

Child abduction, mental health laws amended

Taking a child out of Malta against the orders of a Maltese court, as well as removing children from under a care order by the state will be considered child abduction and punishable by the law.

The Mental Health Act will also be amended to allow children age 16 and over to seek professional emotional support and psychiatric treatment without the consent of a parent or guardian.

Juvenile courts will also be empowered to hear cases of all people under the age of 18, as opposed to 16 as it currently stands. 

The bill is also proposing that the court be given more discretion to decide on cases based on exceptional circumstances, particularly in the case of consensual sexual acts committed against minors with peers close in age.

In such cases, the bill will allow the court discretion to decrease the severity of the crime by one or two degrees. Courts will also be allowed to dish out penalties lower than the minimum sentence in such cases. 

The amendments also seek to recognise bestiality as a crime. Sexual acts between human beings and animals will be considered animal abuse and punishable as an offence under the animal welfare act. Presently, Malta’s laws do not ban or criminalise sexual acts between people and animals.

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