Australia is planning to ban convicted child abusers from travelling abroad in a bid to protect vulnerable children across Southeast Asia.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said today (Tuesday, May 30) that the proposed legislation could see the passports of about 20,000 people on the child sex offender register cancelled.
“There has been increasing community concern about sexual exploitation of vulnerable children and community concern is justified,” she said.
Some 800 Australian child sex offenders travelled abroad last year and about half of those went to Southeast Asian countries.
“There will be new legislation which will make Australia a world leader in protecting vulnerable children in our region from child sex tourism,” she added.
Currently, no other country has such a travel ban, said Justice Minister Michael Keenan. He estimated that 2,500 new paedophiles would be added to the sex offender register every year and also become liable lose their passports.
The register currently contains 3,200 serious offenders, who would be banned from overseas travel for life. Less serious offenders, who abide by certain conditions, would become eligible to apply for new passports after a certain number of years.
Campaigning independent Senator Derryn Hinch — who was molested as a child and twice jailed for naming paedophiles on a radio show in contravention of court orders — took credit for the government initiative.
Sen. Hinch said he didn’t know that convicted child abusers were allowed to travel until he received a letter from actress and children’s rights campaigner Rachel Griffiths.
“If we can take a passport from a bankrupt, why can’t we stop our paedophiles from travelling to Myanmar?” Griffiths asked him.
Sen. Hinch, who helped draft the legislation, said temporary passports could be provided to paedophiles in some exceptional circumstances.
“Also, this will not apply to a teenager who has been caught sexting to his 15-year-old girlfriend,” Sen. Hinch said.
“I know sometimes, I think unfairly, they go on registers, but we’re trying to work it out so they don’t.”
Julie Bishop said governments in the Asia-Pacific region had requested that Australia do more to stem child sex tourists.
“There’s most certainly deep concern among countries in our region about the number of registered child sex offenders in Australia engaging in the child sex tourism industry,” she said.
Australia has already introduced a new criminal offence to punish citizens who molest children abroad, carrying a maximum sentence of 25 years.