This is the history of the islands, of the scandals that are currently rocking them, the arguments by both sides in the case, and the long-term consequences.
The Pitcairn Islands are the most isolated of the inhabitable places on Earth. Only one is large enough to support any kind of settlement at all. The islands have no harbors, no runways, no access whatsoever except via some long dugouts that the men row to passing cargo ships.
The islands were first inhabited by Fletcher Christian and fellow mutineers from The Bounty. It suited them well, because of the improbability of the islands ever being found, and the impossibility of an organized raid by British naval forces, even if they were. A better refuge would be hard to imagine.
Fast-forward, then, to the present day. The population of the island is around about 30. The islands, even with the trade, cannot support more than this. It's questionable as to whether it can support what it already has. In the intervening years, between Christian Fletcher's famous mutiny and today, the Islanders have formed their own culture and their own world view.
This world view has dramatically collided with the world view as seen by New Zealand and Great Britain.
A visitor to the islands complained of being raped whilst being there. Bad, but not the end of the world. At least, that would have been the case almost anywhere else. An investigation uncovered generation upon generation of underage sex, sexual abuse and the general treating of women as sexual property.
As you can imagine, this didn't go down too well with the investigators. Half the male population were arrested and put on trial. One got acquitted, but news reports hint that that may have been part of a plea-bargain. The other six, including the mayor of the island and his son, were convicted on numerous charges of sexual assaults on minors.
The defense had three arguments, all of which were rejected. The first argument was that it was part of Pitcairn's traditions. Certainly, this is a plausible situation. With such a low population, it is entirely possible that the Islanders have attempted to stave off extinction by ignoring such details as age limits. Although there is no obvious proof of this, it's possible that there have been times where no alternative existed if the Islanders were to survive.
The second argument was that the depletion of half the male population would make it impossible for the Islanders to sustain themselves, as there simply wouldn't be enough people to man the boats to bring in the supplies. The opinion of the courts seemed to be that the Islanders should have thought of that before breaking any laws. Any problems the Islanders suffered was entirely brought down upon themselves, and sympathy was not exactly in abundance.
The third and final argument was that Britain had no claim over the Island, largely on the grounds that it was never a formal colony but founded by escapees, but also because there is absolutely no formal contact between the two whatsoever. If Britain had no claim, then Britain's laws would be irrelevant.
The first argument is by far the stronger, but it is still hopelessly fragile. Firstly, laws are intended to protect both quality and quantity of life. There are good psychological reasons for believing the age limits are about right, and excellent reasons for believing that some age limit is essential.
On this basis, the Pitcairn Islanders have sacrificed quality in order to obtain a slightly higher assurance of quantity. But it's still no guarantee.
Actually, it's no guarantee at all. A gene pool that small is utterly unsustainable over the long haul. Especially with that degree of isolation. That they've survived as long as they have is impressive, but they have no long-term prospects at all. By clinging onto a "tradition" that enables them to retain their isolation and genetic stagnation, they have condemned their future to oblivion.
Now we get into more difficult territory. Did Britain and New Zealand have any business getting involved at all? At what point is an independent community entitled to autonomy, and at what point is it right and proper for outsiders to intervene?
Here it gets more complicated. Denmark, for example, has an age of consent of 12. Considerably lower than that of Britain, where it is 16. Does Britain have the right to interfere with Denmark's autonomy, in the event of British citizens transgressing British law on Danish soil?
The answer would be no. Denmark is a sovereign state, it has made its decision on how it chooses to view sexuality, and has passed laws accordingly. If others exploit loopholes in those laws, then that is a matter for Denmark, not Britain or any other country.
So why are the Pitcairn Islands any different? In one sense, they're not. Being so remote, they aren't exactly on the regular patrols by the British police. I'm almost positive they have no representation in British Parliament. It would be awfully hard to make them pay taxes. In many of the practical ways that distinguish joint communities from distinct ones, the Pitcairn Islands are unquestionably separate from Britain.
These are not the only practicalities to consider, though. The Pitcairn Islands are parasitical - they couldn't survive without bringing in supplies, but they really don't have a whole lot to give in exchange. (Although, given the charges, it's possible they've found solutions to that problem too.)
As they have no independent existence, to consider them as an independent nation would be pushing it a bit. Unlike Denmark, they can only exist as part of a larger community. They have no choice in that. And, given their extreme location, there's not a whole lot of choice in who they consider themselves a part of.
This problem may seem very remote and of no real significance. It's just a small bunch of Islanders, in the middle of nowhere, who got caught with their pants down. Yes and no. In an age where the imposition of one nation's will on another seems to be increasingly common, the dangers of such action are becoming increasingly apparent.
But where do you draw the line? When is it right and proper to intervene, and when is it an unlawful invasion? Who decides? The winner? To avoid the excesses of Imperialism, certain standards on International relationships have to be observed, whether we like them or not, whether they're convenient or not.
But in fringe cases, such as the Pitcairns, how do you really know if it is an international case, or a purely domestic affair? Who decides? How do they decide?
the UN and the International Court of Justice decide on International issues, whereas national governments deal with national issues. There are no entities which deal with cases which are not clearly one or the other. All anyone in such a class can do is hope.
But in the case of the Pitcairns, were they criminals hoping not to get caught, or lawful citizens hoping not to be imposed upon by alien beliefs? And what precedent has been set, in the dealing with any remote or fringe community, anywhere?