By Peter J. Smith
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 28, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The battle against international sex-trafficking took a new step forward Wednesday after the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs approved legislation that would establish an international database of registered sex offenders and traffickers – an international version of the U.S. “Megan’s Law”– which its sponsors say would greatly assist authorities worldwide in preventing the exploitation of children by international sex tourists.
The measure, sponsored by U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, is called “the International Megan’s Law of 2010” and would establish mandatory reporting requirements for convicted sex traffickers and registered sex offenders against children who intend to travel overseas.
The House committee cleared the legislation to go to the floor of the full U.S. House of Representatives in a unanimous voice vote.
Currently the fight against keeping sex predators from exploiting children abroad depends on cooperation between national governments and international police agencies, such as between Interpol and U.S. border and customs officers.
But Smith, a longtime human rights leader and author of anti human-trafficking legislation in 2000, 2003 and 2005, said international cooperation is largely “ad hoc” and leaves wide gaps for sexual offenders to travel to and from international destinations largely unnoticed and anonymous. Despite the “sincere effort” of U.S. and foreign agencies, Smith said that international sharing of information about travelling child sex predators only happens occasionally.
“A legal structure is needed to systematize notification efforts and ultimately protect as many children as possible,” he said.
The prime model for the legislation is the U.S. Megan’s law, which was passed in 1996 in order to respond to the problem of convicted sexual predators changing their address or even moving across state lines where state and local authorities would have no knowledge of their danger to children and society. The law is named after a New Jersey girl, Megan Nicole Kanka, who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in 1994 by a convicted sex offender who lived right across the street.
The proposed bill takes specific aim at child sex tourism. Smith’s proposed law would require that the United States provide advance notice of a “high risk” individual’s intended travel to the government authorities of their destination, and would request foreign governments to notify the United States when individuals with known records of sexually preying upon minors seek to enter the United States.
If approved by Congress, the International Megan’s Law would establish a sex offender travel notification system for U.S. authorities on the look-out for sex offenders intending international travel to and from the United States, non-public sex offender registries in U.S. embassies to keep critical information on U.S. sex predators living abroad, and would provide the U.S. Secretary of State with the ability to revoke or severely restrict the passport of an individual convicted overseas of a sex crime against a minor.
The proposed bill would also require the Secretary of State to issue a report on how international cooperation between governments is progressing on child sex offender travel, and would also provide financial assistance to other countries to help them establish systems to identify and report child sex offenders to U.S. authorities.
According to the International Labour Organization, approximately 1.8 million children all over the world suffer exploitation through the commercial sex trade, a figure referenced by Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who strongly endorsed the bill during its Wednesday committee mark-up.
“We all know the devastating emotional, physical, and psychological effects on these child victims,” he said. “We need to do all we can to prevent these predators from circumventing U.S. laws to prey on children in foreign countries.”
Berman urged his colleagues in the House on both sides of the aisle to support the bill, which is expected to come before the full House before the summer recess.