The State Department recently confiscated the passports of child sex offenders throughout the United States. The offenders were told that they could apply for a new passport, but that their travel documents would come with an indicator to tell other countries that they are on the sex offender registry. The new law is called the “International Megan’s Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders,” known in short as IML. This law also requires traveling offenders to notify law enforcement 21 days before leaving the United States.

We’ve come a long way from the passports of 1815 – Wikimedia Commons

Inside of the back cover of the passport, a short couple of lines will read: “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor, and is a covered sex offender pursuant to 22 United States Code Section 212b(c)(l).” Sex offenders cannot get passport cards anyway, so they will have to stick to the standard passport booklet.

Many are pleased with the idea that restricts sex offenders in any way, but others aren’t so sure–and it’s not because they have sympathy for child molesters. There are many ways to end up on a sex offender list that some would find surprising. To name a few: a minor taking nude pictures of themselves and then being charged with child pornography, visiting a prostitute, getting caught peeing in public anywhere, or flashing someone while drunk at a party or outside.  And if you’re wondering if minors can really get put on the sex offender list–they can, in at least 27 states. Not only might this restrict their travel, but carrying around a document that says you are a child sex offender could put that person in danger in many places.

On the other hand, this effort is unlikely attempting to target those people. Sex tourism, a multi-billion dollar industry where people travel overseas specifically for sexual reasons, reportedly involves over 2 million children worldwide. Sexual relations with a child is strictly illegal in countries like the United States, but it is less regulated in places like Mexico, Thailand or Cambodia. Thailand has the highest amounts of child sex trafficking, followed by Brazil.

Some countries, like Switzerland, Germany or the Netherlands, have legalized prostitution and can therefore regulate it. It is easier for them to keep tabs on human trafficking when the business surrounding such activities can be closely watched by the government. However, this remains a problem for those who have moral grievances toward prostitution as a whole.

Other countries like the majority of the United States, Malaysia, the Philippines and China have made it illegal. With that said, the United States has had more success in its efforts to combat human trafficking than the Philippines and China.

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This latest move by the U.S. State Department is an effort to combat worldwide sex tourism involving children, so the receiving nation can make its decision based on its knowledge of the tourist entering their borders. Child-prostitution is closely linked with places that suffer from severe poverty; if the government hopes to combat this kind of sex trafficking with limited resources and little help from neighboring countries, simply cutting out foreign sex-offenders might be an effective first step.

And the problem is prevalent enough on American soil too. To put it in perspective: there were 18,500 runaways reported in 2016. 1 in 6 were “likely sex trafficking victims” (according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children). There are other factors that might contribute toward a child being trafficked, and some sources put the number up to a staggering 100,000 each year in the United States.

Click here for a guide for parents who want to know more about child sex trafficking and prevention.

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.