The courts will be able to prohibit sex offenders who have been released from prison from entering schools and other places frequented by children under proposed changes to the 2014 law on the sexual abuse of minors.
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said that proposed amendments will be submitted to cabinet on Monday and then forwarded to the House of Representatives for approval with aim of tackling gaps in the current law.
The changes widen the powers of the body charged with monitoring those convicted of sexual offences against minors and allow courts to introduce restrictive measures after an offender is released.
The state will be able to hire services from the private sector to monitor such offenders after their release, while the victim or his/her guardian will be given prior notice of the possible release of an offender.
The changes come in the wake of the uproar after a man convicted of sexually abusing a young girl was given early release and moved back into the neighbourhood. The decision raised a storm of protests, with President Nicos Anastasiades apologising for the development and promising changes to the law so that it would not occur again.
Nicolaou said the restrictive measures which can be ordered by the court once an offender is released include prohibiting access to the home of the victim, to schools or other places frequented by the victim or other children.
Released sex offenders will also be prohibited from driving in areas frequented by children or the victim, prohibiting the offender of contacting the victim or his/her family or any other child and prohibiting access to specific web pages. Moreover, courts can prohibit possession or use of sexually arousing material as prohibiting the purchase and consumption of alcohol.
The supervisory authority will be able to assign the monitoring of individuals and will also be able to impose restrictions such as the requirement to report to a police station, house arrest, an obligation to inform police and the authority of a change of residence or employment and of travel plans. The authority will also be able to require the offender sign up for treatment.
Nicolaou said indicative of the government’s commitment to deal with problem in a comprehensive manner was the preparation of a national strategy to protect children from sexual exploitation, sexual abuse and child pornography with the advice of special adviser Anastasia Papadopoulou.
It has also set up the ‘Foni’ (Voice) council to monitor implementation of the national strategy and runs a house for children, he added.
The role of police to avert and combat the problem has been upgraded with the establishment of a special investigative team so that such cases are handled by specialists.
In 2017, this team investigated 138 complaints of sexual abuse of children. Of these, 77 cases were taken to court. In 2018, the team investigated 165 cases.
Regarding penalties, the minister said that there should be zero tolerance in cases of sexual abuse of children. Penalties imposed after the adoption of the 2014 law were similar to those before it was adopted or only slightly tougher, he said. The new legislation provides for very tough penalties reflecting the severity of the offence.
Justice Ministry permanent secretary and president of the supervisory authority Andreas Ashiotis said that since 2014 the authority had monitored 33 released offenders. It is currently monitoring 25 and has proposed another 10 be monitored.
He said in the four years since the authority was set up, it had become clear that the current law must be amended and the authority given more powers so as to be effective.