Government unveils 'grooming laws'

Those convicted of the new offence of making online contact with children with the intention of later abuse will face up to five years in jail

The first major shake-up of sex laws in more than half a century has seen the introduction of a new offence, which covers the practice of 'grooming'.

Grooming typically involves paedophiles befriending children in internet chatrooms, often pretending to be of the same age, or with similar interests.

Offenders now face up to five years in prison if convicted on a charge of 'grooming' -- although the government has admitted that proving online contact was made with the intention of later meeting and abusing children will be a tricky business.

Home Office minister Hilary Benn told the BBC he did not "underestimate the difficulties" of bringing such a prosecution. Despite this it was believed that a law outlawing 'grooming' was long overdue.

For this reason, the law is divided into two areas: legislation covering those using chatrooms to befriend children, under an assumed identity, and a second area covering offences which occur after actual contact has been made following an introduction in a chatroom.

The change in laws follows a massive campaign to educate parents and children on the threat of paedophiles who use chatrooms.

The government is spending £1m promoting its website, which offers help and advice on protecting children online and warning them of the dangers that exist.

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