Very few people would disagree that time barring for cases of child sexual abuse must go. The Lisa Maria Foundation has pushed for this to happen for the past few years and has recently once again asked the government to remove it. This is the least the country, and its criminal justice system, can do for victims of sexual abuse. We must ensure that perpetrators do not walk free and be given the opportunity to disrupt the childhood, and lives, of other children due to the presence of a legal deadline.
Earlier this month, the Lisa Maria Foundation held a meeting with Family and Children’s Rights Minister, Michael Falzon to reiterate our request to remove time barring. We were pleased to find that the minister was willing to act on our request and we look forward to progress being made in this regard and, ultimately, the removal of time barring for cases of child sexual abuse in the near future.
It is a fact that time-barring has devastating effects on victims of sexual abuse. Having finally matured enough and worked up the courage to speak out about their abuse, they find out that justice is denied because a certain amount of time would have passed since the abuse took place.
We have had cases of sexual predators walking free as their heinous acts had been time-barred in terms of law. This is absolutely senseless and dangerous. Just because of the passage of time, perpetrators are not only let off the hook but also allowed to continue to roam free with the possibility of harming other minors.
Victims of child sexual abuse need time to address the trauma they have experienced. They have had their childhood robbed and safeguards should be in place to support victims to speak up. The criminal justice system needs to be more child focused. It must ensure that the time barring concept is not abused of, to the detriment of the victim and in favour of the offender. Abusers must face the consequences of their actions no matter how long ago such abuse would have taken place. This is the least we owe children who have suffered abuse.
As a result of the time barring mechanism, offenders also avoid being put onto the Sex Offenders Register, again giving them easier access to children as they continue living under the radar. Our foundation believes that it is painfully obvious how wrong this is.
The Lisa Maria Foundation has also long insisted that access to the Sex Offenders Register for all institutions employing people who have a duty of care towards children must be made easier, faster and free of charge.
Employers, organisations and educators entrusted with the care of children should be given an easier way to check if a prospective recruit is on the register. The process that they have to go through to ensure that any member of staff who comes into contact with children in their care is not a predator is currently very cumbersome.
We must ensure that perpetrators do not walk free and given the opportunity to disrupt the childhood, and lives, of other children due to the presence of a legal deadline- Winston Zahra
As it is the Registrar of the Civil Court who manages the sex offenders list, those entrusted with the care of children must first go to their lawyer who in turn files an application before the First Hall of the Civil Court. The application is also sent to the attorney general who has seven days to reply to the request. Following this, the application and reply are seen by a judge who appoints a hearing at which the parties make submissions detailing the name of the person they want to check.
In case that permission is granted, the judge orders the Court Registrar to check the register for the requested name and inform the applicants of the outcome of the search. This process could take a very long time, allowing sexual predators listed on the register to be in contact with children in the meantime.
The foundation has, on various occasions, stated that it is absurd to expect a sexual predator to inform a potential employer that he/she is on the register, as the law requires. Access to the register must be made easy, fast and free without risking data protection breaches.
The current situation must change from one which is inclined to protect the rights of those who have committed a serious crime and move towards protecting innocent people, especially children, from potential harm from these offenders. The foundation has made recommendations on how this can easily be done and urges the government to take action on this without further delay.
The Lisa Maria Foundation remains committed to see these changes through and will continue working to ensure that they are implemented in the shortest time possible. With every day that passes, the risk of another child being sexually abused is higher than it needs to be.
We have to collectively ensure that we do everything possible to eliminate these crimes from our society and, when they happen, ensure that the perpetrator meets with the strongest possible punishment and is not given the opportunity to hide behind deficiencies in our legal system.
The Lisa Maria Foundation is an NGO with an over-arching objective to safeguard children and young people from harm.
Winston Zahra, Co-founder, Lisa Maria Foundation
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