WASHINGTON, DC – A law to protect children in the U.S. and around the world from convicted pedophiles who travel in or out of the United States unbeknownst to law enforcement officials was signed into law last night, capping an eight-year effort to enact international notification legislation named for the late Megan Kanka, a seven-year-old from Hamilton, N.J.
“This important legislation authorizes the creation of a comprehensive reciprocal notification system to significantly expand protections for children worldwide,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith who authored the new law commonly referred to asInternational Megan’s Law.
“Now foreign governments will know when convicted pedophiles who are currently required to be on government sex-offender registries, are traveling to other countries. Now they can assess the potential danger and take reasonable precautions to protect children including denial of a visa or limiting travel,” Smith said.
In 1994, Megan Kanka was sexually assaulted and killed by a convicted, repeat sex offender living across the street and unknown to the residents in the neighborhood. Public outcry in response to the terrible crime and tireless work by Megan’s parents, Richard and Maureen Kanka, led to the New Jersey State Legislature passing the original Megan’s Law (NJSA 2C: 7-1 through 7-II) in 1994. The law required public notification of convicted sex offenders living in the community. Today all 50 states and all the territories have a Megan’s Law, an important tool in preventing more children from becoming victims.
“As a result of the hard work by loving Megan’s parents, Maureen and Richard Kanka, and others, first New Jersey and then all 50 states passed Megan’s Laws to require public notification of convicted sex offenders living in the community,” said Smith (NJ-04). “Information is power and the interest of protecting children remains at the core of the federal and original state Megan’s Laws and the enactment of today’s International Megan’s Law.”
Richard Kanka said the bipartisan agreement notifying foreign law enforcement of traveling child predators is paramount for the safety of all children.
“The reason this legislation is so important is that it will provide law enforcement with the information needed to help prevent convicted sex offenders from moving secretly throughout this country and any other nation worldwide,” said Kanka. “Law-abiding citizens of this country did not create this problem. It was created by individuals who continue to terrorize our children and want to remain anonymous. When a sex offender has been convicted of violating a child, law enforcement and parents have a right to know where they are hiding. Revealing the secret status of convicted child predators is what Megan’s Law is all about. Removing the secrecy will prevent more children from becoming victims in the US and abroad by simply making the facts known.”
Officially named The International Megan’s Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advance Notification of Traveling Sex Offender, H.R. 515, passed the House several times before being approved by Senate in December. The House unanimously passed the final bill on Feb. 1 and sent it to the White House on Feb. 4 with the President signing it February 8, 2016.
Smith first introduced the International Megan’s Law bill alongside the Kankas in 2008 in Megan’s Place, the small community park that bears Megan’s name, and has worked for passage ever since. The final version that moved out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in October was crafted in close partnership with Senator Richard Shelby (AL), who championed the innovative passport provisions, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Corker (TN) and Ranking Member Ben Cardin (MD), and; Sen. Barbara Mikulski (MD). Smith also acknowledged the strong support of Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (CA), who helped advance the final bill in the House, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and Ranking Member Eliot Engel.
“Child sex-trafficking and tourism are a serious problem,” Smith said. “With the enactment of this law and the bipartisan hard work of so many lawmakers and advocacy groups, children in the U.S. and around the world will now have greater protections from roving child predators.”
The newly signed International Megan’s Law:
- Streamlines and coordinates the work of the Angel Watch Center with the Sex Offender Targeting Center of the US Marshals Service so that the best information is getting to the right people in the shortest amount of time;
- Makes it a crime, for the first time, for a sex offender to travel abroad without giving 21 days advance notice so that law enforcement has adequate time to vet the traveler and warn the destination country, if needed;
- Mandates that the State Department, in consultation with the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, establish,within 90 days, a program for issuing a passport provision on a traveling sex offender with an offense against a child and current duty to register, thereby preventing circumvention of the notification system by travelers who misreport which countries they will visit;
- Requires federal agencies to properly collect notification response data to understand which countries are working with the U.S. on preventing re-offense by child predators;
- Provides the authority for both the Angel Watch Center and the US Marshals Service to receive information from other countries about pedophiles intending to travel to the U.S.;
- Clarifies the receipt and sharing within U.S. law enforcement of incoming notifications on known sex offenders traveling to the U.S.; and
- Directs the Secretary of State, in coordination with the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security, to seek agreements and use technical assistance with other countries so that the United States is notified in advance of incoming foreign sex offenders.
The new International Megan’s Law will work in conjunction with America’s landmark anti-human trafficking law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 authored by Smith, and the two other trafficking laws he wrote in 2003 and 2005.
According to a 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office entitled “Current Situation Results in Thousands of Passports Issued to Registered Sex Offenders,” at least 4,500 U.S. passports were issued to registered sex offenders in fiscal year 2008. Typically a U.S. passport is valid for 10 years. The GAO emphasized that its numbers were probably understated due to the limitations of the data that it was able to access and analyze.
Estimates from the International Labor Organization indicate that 1.8 million children are victims of commercial sexual exploitation around the world every year.