About 20,000 registered pedophiles in Australia stand to lose their passports under a “world-first” legislation proposed by the nation’s government to curb child sex tourism.
With Australia located south of countries such as Cambodia and Thailand where child prostitution is widely reported, human rights activists and lawmakers including Foreign Minister Julie Bishop are concerned that Australian citizens are traveling overseas to sexually abuse youth.
“This new legislation represents the toughest crackdown on child sex tourism by any government, anywhere,” Bishop said Tuesday. Nearly 800 registered sex offenders traveled abroad from Australia in the past year ― half of whom went to Southeast Asia, she said.
The proposed law will be presented to Parliament this week, and will “make Australia a world leader in protecting vulnerable children in our region from child sex tourism,” Bishop said.
Currently, registered sex offenders must alert Australian authorities when they plan to travel abroad, but many have defied that legal requirement, according to Justice Minister Michael Keenan.
“We are determined to do what we can to stop Australians from engaging in child sex tourism,” he said Tuesday. “It’s an absolutely abhorrent crime.”
Serious offenders will be barred from traveling overseas for life, Bishop said, while those convicted of less severe offenses may eventually be able to renew their passports if they comply with various conditions.
In 1994, Australia became one of the first countries to make sexual exploitation of children abroad a criminal act punishable by jail time. The government increased the penalties for such offenses in 2010. Australian citizens who engage in sexual activity with children overseas can now face up to 25 years behind bars.
The child sex tourism industry accrues up to $20 billion per year, the United Nations estimates. Sexual exploitation affects some 2 million children annually.