Australia punishes people who abuse children overseas with up to 25 years imprisonment. Despite this, some Australian paedophiles are known to take inexpensive holidays to South East Asian and Pacific island countries to abuse children. In response, Australia is going to introduce new laws to tackle child sex tourism in what has been described as a “world first”. The Government has said the new rules, which includes the cancellation of passports, will ensure child sex offenders cannot travel “to vulnerable countries where they are out of sight and reach of Australian law”.
Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop has said that her country “is leading the way when it comes to protecting vulnerable children overseas.” She said governments in the Asia-Pacific region wanted Australia to do more and that the new laws would prevent convicted Australian paedophiles taking part in the “growing child sex tourism trade.”
There are around 20,000 registered child sex offenders in Australia who are subject to reporting obligations and supervision. In 2016 almost 800 travelled abroad and about half went to Southeast Asian destinations. The Australian register contains 3,200 serious offenders who will be banned from travel for life. “Less serious” offenders, who will be removed from the register after several years of complying with reporting conditions, will become eligible to have their passports renewed.
According to EPCAT, an NGO which campaigns against child sex tourism, there are more than 24 countries where child sex tourism is prevalent, with the worst affected locations in South America and Southeast Asia. UNICEF estimates that two million children globally are exploited sexually every year.
Tackling child sexual abuse and exploitation requires a collaborative, worldwide effort, with each country taking responsibility for the part their nationals play in child abuse. 44 countries, including England, have legislation that enables them to prosecute their nationals for crimes against children committed abroad. However, EPCAT says that “there are very few countries that have invoked extraterritorial legislation frequently”, possibly due to the cost of investigating crimes abroad.
Australia’s new approach seems to be a powerful tool with which to reduce child sex tourism. It will be interesting to see if other countries follow in their footsteps.