Elim­i­nate time-bar­ring prin­ci­ple

Malta Independent - - Comment -

Chil­dren are among the most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of our so­ci­ety and, as such, they should be af­forded as much pro­tec­tion as pos­si­ble. When adults abuse their in­no­cence, they should be pun­ished, and pun­ished in a heav­ier way than if the of­fence had been com­mit­ted against an­other adult.

It is al­ways sad when chil­dren are abused, in what­ever way. Last Wed­nes­day, the Curia’s Safe­guard­ing Com­mis­sion re­ported that three cases of sex­ual abuse com­mit­ted against mi­nors within the Church had been sub­stan­ti­ated, and ac­tion had been taken against the per­pe­tra­tors. It was good to hear that the Church has started to take these sit­u­a­tions more se­ri­ously than it had done not very long ago.

Of course, it is not only within the Church con­fines that abuse is com­mit­ted against chil­dren. In the past, episodes of abuse – sex­ual or oth­er­wise; within fam­i­lies, clubs and com­mu­ni­ties – of chil­dren was some­thing rare, prob­a­bly be­cause many such in­ci­dents were kept hid­den away from so­ci­ety, or not even

Ed­i­tor’s pick

re­ported. Very of­ten, the of­fend­ers went un­pun­ished, and were free to move on to their next vic­tim.

More re­cently, re­ports of abuse have be­come more com­mon, and our courts of law have had to deal with these sit­u­a­tions with more reg­u­lar­ity. Some­times per­pe­tra­tors were given ap­pro­pri­ate pun­ish­ments, at other times the courts ap­peared to be rather le­nient. But it is pos­i­tive to note that so­ci­ety as a whole is no longer turn­ing away from these is­sues.

There is now an­other step that needs to be taken, and this was high­lighted this week by a foun­da­tion that was set up fol­low­ing the tragic death of a mi­nor. The Lisa Marie Foun­da­tion strongly ob­jected to what it de­scribed as a mis­car­riage of jus­tice af­ter a man found guilty of en­gag­ing in sex­ual acts with a mi­nor es­caped serv­ing time in jail be­cause the case was time­barred.

“It is ab­so­lutely sense­less that just be­cause of the pas­sage of time a per­son of this sort is not only let off the hook but also al­lowed to con­tinue to roam free with the pos­si­bil­ity of him harm­ing other chil­dren,” the foun­da­tion said in a state­ment. The time-bar­ring prin­ci­ple also means that the of­fender is not put on the sex of­fend­ers’ list, and as a re­sult this makes it eas­ier for the of­fender to be em­ployed in places with easy ac­cess to chil­dren.

The foun­da­tion is ab­so­lutely right about this. Peo­ple who are charged with abus­ing chil­dren should not be granted the pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting away with it just be­cause an es­tab­lished pe­riod of time has passed. And ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble should be done to keep them away from other in­tended vic­tims.

Chil­dren who pass through the trauma of be­ing abused never for­get the ex­pe­ri­ence, and the rest of their life, in­clud­ing re­la­tion­ships they try to build, is af­fected by it.

Our leg­is­la­tors would do well to take the ad­vice of the foun­da­tion and act upon it im­me­di­ately in the best in­ter­ests of chil­dren.

There should not be any po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy about this.

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