A blurred image photo of a prostitution area on Thailand's Patong Beach on the island of Phuket. Photo: iStock/Getty Images
A blurred image photo of a prostitution area on Thailand's Patong Beach on the island of Phuket. Photo: iStock/Getty Images

Australia’s parliament is set to pass the world’s first legislation to cancel the passports of all registered child sex offenders in a bid to stop them from finding new victims overseas, including in known sex tourism destinations in Southeast Asia.

On May 30, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Justice Minister Michael Keenan announced the plan to ground some 20,000 convicted offenders on a list that is not made available to the public. Keenan acknowledged that current regulations in place were “completely inadequate.”

Bishop said that 800 registered sex offenders travelled overseas last year, half “without permission” from the Australian Federal Police or state police that they planned to travel, as required by law.

Many of them, official records show, traveled to legally permissive destinations in Southeast Asia known for child sex tourism. Half of those who travelled illegally in 2016 were viewed as medium or high risk offenders who had harmed children under the age of 13.

“We are ensuring that Australian registered child-sex offenders are not able to take part in the growing child-sex tourism trade,” Bishop said at the joint press conference.

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop speaks during the 28th International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) Fullerton Lecture in Singapore March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Yong Teck Lim - RTX30RRM
Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Photo: Reuters/Yong Teck Lim

Underscoring those official concerns, news reports indicated the legislation was the fastest to be drafted in Australia’s history. It is expected to be passed with little or no dissent in the coming days.

“There’s most certainly deep concern amongst countries in our region about the number of registered child sex offenders from Australia
engaging in the child sex tourism industry,” said Bishop.

Once the legislation is passed, it will be illegal for all of those on the Australian National Child Offender Register (ANCOR) to leave Australia without express permission.

Those currently overseas who have their passports cancelled will be issued a temporary and specific travel document to return to Australia.

Those on the register may apply for travel under extenuating circumstances, such as the passing of a family member. Under current law, only those on parole or on bail can be denied a passport.

Pattaya, Thailand - January 4, 2014: Crowd of tourists under the neon signs and placards of Walking Street, Pattaya's hottest nightlife spot.
A crowd of tourists under the neon signs and placards of Pattaya, Thailand, a globally renowned prostitution destination. Photo: iStock/Getty Images 

The new legislation was tabled by independent senator Derryn Hinch with help from Project Karma, an anti-child-sex group run by former Australian police officer Glen Hulley and based in Thailand with offices around Southeast Asia.

Hinch, 72, a former journalist, has long campaigned against pedophiles and has served time for publicly naming them from the secret list of registered sex offenders. Hinch has said that it is time to stop what he refers to as “child-rape holidays.”

Hinch, the Justice Party’s leader, has made combatting child sex offenders his first order of business upon winning a Senate seat in the 2016 federal election.

“People say ‘what about their civil rights?’ Well when you rape a child, you lose some of your civil rights, from my point of view,” he said to Fairfax Media.

The Australian National Child Offender Register (ANCOR) is not always a lifetime sentence, though it is confidential and only certain members of the police force have access to it. On Tuesday, Hinch called for the register to made public.

While Australian Federal Police (AFP) inform their Southeast Asian counterparts when a former child sex offender travels to their countries, local bureaus are often overburdened, understaffed or disinterested to follow up.

A Thai go-go dancers waits for customers at Bangkok's normally packed Soi Cowboy red-light area just before curfew May 25, 2010. Bar owners and go-go dancers say a night-time curfew in the Thai capital has badly affected their business, with tourist scared off and expatriate customers staying home.   REUTERS/Damir Sagolj (THAILAND - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TRAVEL BUSINESS) - RTR2ECDW
A Thai go-go dancer waits for customers at Bangkok’s Soi Cowboy red-light area. Photo: Reuters/Damir Sagolj 

Several exposed pedophile cases in Southeast Asia in recent years, including the case of Peter Scully, who is now on trial in the Philippines for torture, murder and pedophilia, underscore the point. Scully, for one, stands accused of using the “dark web” to live broadcast child abuse.

In May, the AFP helped Philippine authorities arrest three women who were also live-streaming child abuse, an online crime that is apparently hugely profitable and fast growing in the Philippines.

Michael Brosowski, founder of Blue Dragon children’s charity in Hanoi, told Asia Times, “People who pose a risk to children shouldn’t have the freedom to travel to countries where weaker law enforcement or cultural attitudes give them easier access to vulnerable kids.”

This picture taken on June 8, 2016 shows children waiting their turn to sing karaoke along a street in the Divisoria market in Manila.Since winning the presidential election in May, Rodrigo Duterte has said he will impose late-night bans on children walking the streets, alcohol sales and the national passion of karaoke singing -- insisting that his crackdown must start with the fundamentals of discipline in society. Hundreds of people have also died since the election, promising to rid society of drugs and crime in six months by killing tens of thousands of criminals. / AFP PHOTO / NOEL CELIS / TO GO WITH Philippines-crime-drugs-rights,FOCUS by Noel Celis
This picture taken on June 8, 2016 shows children waiting their turn to sing karaoke along a street in the Divisoria market in Manila. Photo: AFP/ Noel Celis

Blue Dragon looks after street kids who are often easy pickings for visiting pedophiles. Brosowski says that while incidences of sex tourism in Vietnam are lower than in other Southeast Asian nations, his outfit helped to have a Canadian offender sent to prison last year on child sex charges, a first for the country.

According to Hulley, Australian pedophiles most often travel to the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. He told Asia Times that his organization outed and turned back five offenders who arrived in Bali this May and often closely follows offenders who arrive in other Southeast Asian nations.

Registered Australian offenders are currently allowed to travel on a case-by-case basis. Whilst the passports of bankrupts are cancelled, and those who receive welfare have their government payments cease once they leave the country, there is no such system for those on the ANCOR. Because of this loophole, many were able to leave the country.

Hulley, for one, considers the upcoming law’s passage just the beginning in combatting a scourge that Southeast Asian countries in particular have struggled to combat as they become more reliant on global tourism for economic growth. Once the law is passed, he plans to launch a campaign to make the ANCOR list publicly available.

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