Australian Bill Takes Aim at Pedophiles Before They Abuse Abroad

A bill that aims to alleviate pedophilia abroad, introduced into Australian parliament on Thursday, would allow police to act before the suspect even leaves the country.

The proposed legislation, which a spokesman at Australia’s Attorney-General’s office said is expected to pass later this year, strengthens sentencing for child sex tourists and includes provisions for stopping pedophiles while they’re still in the planning stage.

“It introduces new offenses concerning the steps leading up to child sex overseas, such as preparing or planning for sexual activity with a child overseas,” said Brian Humphreys, the Attorney-General’s senior policy and media adviser.

“We take seriously the protection of children in other countries, such as Cambodia,” Mr Humphreys said, adding the planning for sex with a child is defined broadly.

“Maybe it’s simply asking about it…maybe it’s grooming a child for sex overseas through the Internet or post,” he said.

The sentencing is strong. Membership in an online child porn network can result in up to 25 years imprisonment. An aggravated offense–such as sex with a child when in a position of trust–also awards up to 25 years. Additionally, the bill ups the penalties for both sexual intercourse and indecent acts with a minor.

Senior Australian Federal Police liaison in Cambodia, Phil Hunter, said pedophilia was one of the focuses of the team of Cambodian police who work in conjunction with the AFP.

“If we can stop people from getting here in the first place, certainly it will help,” Mr Hunter said of the new legislation.

Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior, said he had not heard of the Australian bill but welcomed the initiative, which is working in tangent with local efforts to prosecute pedophiles.

“We have more police, more education, more convictions,” Mr Sopheak said. “When tourists come, we try to educate them about this, you can even see [warnings] on the back of tuk-tuks.”

But, he admitted, “it is still a big problem.”

While reliable estimates of foreign sex tourists are impossible to come by, 26 of them were arrested last year, according to anti-pedophilia NGO Action Pour Les Enfants. That number is nearly twice what it was in 2008, a positive sign said APLE Country Director Seila Samleang.

“It shows an increasing effort of the police to crackdown on this, an increasing willingness of NGOs to report suspects and an increase in families and victims coming forward,” said Mr Seila, who noted that as recently as five years ago children were openly groomed and child abuse was rampant due to “gross inaction” by the public and authorities.

“This type of law should be very effective,” Mr Seila said of the Australian initiative.

“We have to address the problem from both angles–protection and prevention.”


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