MALTA: No time limit on bringing an action against child sex abuse

Summary: This proposal comes under the new National Children’s Policy, currently open for consultation, which also prescribes that all children who are put up for adoption be represented by a rights advocate, regardless of the child's age.

[12 November 2011] - Sexual abuse of children should not be time-barred and the law must be changed to ensure such crimes never go unpunished, a draft policy document suggests.

The National Children’s Policy, released yesterday for consultation, also recommends increasing the punishment for people found guilty of sexually abusing a child. The idea is to transmit a message of zero tolerance.

The injustice of the time-barring came to light during the court case of 11 teenage boys – now adults – who had lived in a residential home.

In August, two priests – Godwin Scerri and Charles Pulis, both members of the Missionary Society of St Paul since defrocked – were sentenced to five and six years in prison respectively for sexually abusing the boys between the 1980s and 1990s. They faced a maximum nine-year jail term. Both appealed the judgement and are out on bail.

Criminal action was never taken against a third priest because the case against him was time-barred – it had happened more than 10 years before police investigations started. The injustice emerged from the fact that the abuse victims only spoke up as adults when, in 2003, one of them decided to break his silence.

The draft policy document lists a series of recommended legal amendments aimed at safeguarding children’s rights and ensuring their protection.

Recent amendments to adoption law allow a child to have a lawyer before adoption but this right is only applicable to children over 11.

The policy suggests further amendments so that the right to a child advocate has no age limit.

It also speaks about increasing the number of advocates from the present four lawyers.

Changes are also needed to the Care Orders Act to iron out inconsistencies. For example, children placed in care by their parents are being given less access to services when compared to cases where a care order is issued by the court.

The policy also recommends shifting the care and custody responsibility of a child from the Family Minister, who is a political person, to a board of professionals.

More money and resources need to be injected into the government’s support agency Appoġġ and the caseload on workers reduced. The role of the Children’s Commissioner’s office has to be strengthened and more resources provided.

The policy also suggests reconsidering the drawing up of the Children’s Act that has been in the pipeline for over a decade. The idea is to bring all laws concerning children under one umbrella law.

But the policy cautions that this may backfire as it could minimise the effectiveness of other laws that cater for children’s rights. The policy suggests that a law-by-law approach is adopted.

The policy is based on 10 main principles that include: ensuring children’s best interests, mainstreaming, well-being, participation, inclusion, accessibility, protection, families, accountability and sustainability.

Apart from the legal issues, the recommendations also delve into a range of fields that include ensuring children know their rights, introducing family-friendly measures that allow parents to spend time with children and ensuring they are provided with adequate space to play in.

The policy is open for a five-month consultation period and can be viewed on


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