Time-bars on offences involving the sexual abuse of children should be scrapped, the commissioner for children has said.

Pauline Miceli said removing the limits would help to get justice for child abuse victims who know their abusers and take years to gain the courage to speak out.

As the law stands, crimes are time-barred for several years after the child turns 18. The period varies between two and 20 years, depending on severity of the case and the penalty associated with it.

Miceli said the removal of the time-bar would “ensure the highest form of protection involving minors and that justice is served.”

She said: “According to the experts, most children know their abusers and reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg, as many victims remain silent during their childhood and believe it is too late to speak out by the time they become adults or feel ready to denounce their abuser.

“This is especially the case when the abuser is in the child’s circle of trust or family circle or is a person of authority.”

Miceli was speaking as the international Me Too movement gains momentum in Malta with women speaking on social media to reveal their sexual abuse trauma.

Many of the disturbing stories shared common threads. The women often said they were abused when they were children or teens, and by people they trusted – relatives, friends and teachers.

Some were too young to even realise what was happening, while others felt something was wrong and suffered psychological repercussions as they kept their shame bottled up for years.

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Recent amendments to the law extended the period of prescription to start from the day on which the victim “attains the age of majority”, which in Malta is 18.

This was made in line with the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, to which Malta is a signatory, that requests countries to extend their statute of limitation on sexual offences against children so that proceedings may be initiated after the victim has reached the adult legal age. 

Miceli said discussions were being held within her office to officially propose the complete removal of a time-bar in offences involving sexual abuse when the child is a minor, and only speaks out later on in life in adulthood.

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