The charity wants the government to make several changes to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 in a bid to better protect victims of child sexual exploitation and trafficking after a parliamentary inquiry into its effectiveness highlighted a need for a more robust approach.
Under the current legislation, police are unable to arrest someone for the offence of meeting a child with the intention of abusing them following sexual grooming unless there has been at least two incidences of contact before a meeting takes place.
But in a new report, Barnardo’s recommends that the law be tightened to allow police to intervene after one incident of contact if there is a clear intention to meet and abuse the child.
The charity also wants local safeguarding children boards to be given greater powers, similar to those of the children’s commissioner for England, allowing them to request information from local agencies in order to support work to tackle the crimes.
In addition, the charity wants all judges and lawyers dealing with cases of child sexual exploitation to be given specialist training, and for the term “child prostitution” to be removed from the legislation.
Rotherham MP Sarah Champion chaired the inquiry, which took place between November last year and January.
She said: “We wanted to know what we as a society are doing right and where we are failing those who fall victim to this terrible crime.
“During the inquiry we heard a great deal of compelling and heartrending evidence and I would like to thank all those who contributed.
“We have set out a number of legislative suggestions that we believe will improve the way child sexual exploitation is tackled in this country.
“I implore the government and other relevant authorities to look closely at our recommendations.”
Puja Darbari, director of strategy of Barnardo’s, added: “It is essential that we have strong legislation in place to tackle the grooming of children for sexual exploitation.
“We must ensure that the police and other authorities have all the necessary tools at their disposal to keep vulnerable children safe.
“It is to be hoped that by acting in the recommendations outlined in this report we can create a system that puts the welfare of sexually exploited children at its heart.”
Crime prevention minister Norman Baker said the government is determined to “stamp out” child sexual exploitation.
He said: “Measures have already been introduced to reduce distress for victims and improve the investigative process for the police.
“Forces are also being given new powers to require hotels to provide information about guests they believe may be involved in the sexual exploitation of children.
“It is reassuring that this inquiry received no compelling evidence that justice cannot currently be served due to the lack of a child sexual exploitation-specific offence. We will now consider its findings.”