30/04/2002

Petition calls for tougher child protection laws

The parents of murdered schoolgirl Sara Payne have visited the province in order to support a petition handed into Stormont calling for tougher legislation on sex offenders.

The petition, which secured the signatures of over 100,000 people, was handed into Stormont on Tuesday April 30 in order to encourage the support of assembly members to have legislation on child sexual abuse reviewed.

Alliance Deputy Leader and Spokesperson on children’s issues Eileen Bell said she welcomed the ‘Stop It Now’ campaign.

Mrs Bell said: "There is a consensus that it is vital to seek tougher legislation and child protection.

"Alliance is committed to lobbying for more constructive public information and has worked consistently for a review of more appropriate legislation in this sensitive area. We are of the opinion that what is required is an acknowledgement of the seriousness of these offences which should bring about sentences that reflect the crime."

Mrs Bell said the approach to any solution should involve statutory and non-statutory agencies.

“That is why we are working with the NI Sex Offenders Strategic Management Committee which will be launching a document on 'Multi Agency Procedures for the Assessment and Management of Sex Offenders' in the Wellington Park Hotel on Thursday 2nd May 2002.

"It is a fact that the majority of offenders are not convicted and are known to the families and usually live in the community that is why we must push for proper legislation and monitor the movements of offenders through the 'Sex Offenders Register'. If we work together it is hoped that our children will live in a safer environment,” she added.

Patricia Lewsley who chairs the NI Sexual Abuse Forum said: “Child abuse is one of the most heinous crimes and there is an obligation on all of us to protect our young people from those who seek to manipulate and harm them.” (AMcE)

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