209. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which he can intervene to ensure that children at risk are protected from being forced into crime or prostitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7074/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The Deputy will appreciate that crime prevention and investigation, including in relation to the involvement of children in crime or prostitution, are matters for An Garda Síochána in the first instance.
However, an important initiative funded by my Department, known as the "Greentown” project, is examining the influence of criminal networks on children in Ireland. The initiative is being led by the REPPP Project, (Research Evidence into Policy, Programmes and Practice), at the School of Law in the University of Limerick (UL). The REPPP project is a strategic research partnership with UL which is supported by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and also by my own Department.
In the absence of international models of intervention that could be readily deployed, the original Greentown report (December 2016) recommended the design of a programme to include interventions with children and their families to help them withstand the influence of criminal networks. This new “Greentown Programme” has been designed with the input of leading international expertise on crime and criminal networks, together with Irish scientific, policy and practice expertise in child protection and welfare, drugs and community development.
I understand that it is intended to commence a trial of the Greentown Programme approach, on a pilot basis, during 2019.
More generally, my Department provides funding through the Irish Youth Justice Service (IYJS) to support the operation of 106 Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDPs). These projects are community based multi-agency crime prevention initiatives which primarily seek to divert young people who have become involved in crime/anti-social behaviour.
For 2019, IYJS has a renewed emphasis on preventative work by GYDPs, looking at the child in the context of the specific family and the specific community. This includes family support work and working with children aged 8 to 11.
IYJS also supports established and planned pilot projects, to help develop better approaches in areas such as engagement with hard-to-reach or more challenging children, as well as family support and other preventative interventions.
A range of relevant legislative provisions are already in place, including the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998, which provides offences for the organisation of child prostitution and related matters. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, as well as the Children Act 2001, provide for several offences relating to the sexual exploitation of children. The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act, 2008 (as amended), outlaws the trafficking of children for criminal exploitation, and applies to exploitation both within and outside the State. The sanctions for these crimes include, potentially, imprisonment of up to a life sentence for the most serious instances.
Finally, there are also offences in relation to adults who use or force a child to commit a crime, in particular Section 7 (1) of the Criminal Law Act 1997, as well as offences where a child is used for begging in the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2011 and the Children Act 2001.