By Congressman Chris Smith
Eight years after I first introduced a bill to protect children in the U.S. and around the world from convicted pedophiles who travel in secret to or from the United States—currently below the radar of law enforcement officials—it is now on the verge of becoming law.
The House today passed, and sent to the President, my International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking (HR 515)—named for Megan Kanka, a seven-year-old from Hamilton, N.J. in our congressional district who was sexually assaulted and killed in 1994. Megan’s assailant was a convicted, repeat sex offender living across the street, unbeknownst to residents in the neighborhood. Due to public outcry in response to the tragedy and to hard work by Megan’s loving parents, Richard and Maureen Kanka, the New Jersey State Legislature passed the original Megan’s Law (NJSA 2C: 7-1 through 7-II) in 1994 to require public notification of convicted sex offenders living in the community.
HR 515 takes the lessons we learned from Megan’s law and applies them globally to help stop the sex tourism industry. Estimates from the International Labor Organization indicate that 1.8 million children are victims of commercial sexual exploitation around the world each year. Accordingly, my bill establishes new tools and a framework for the U.S. to send and receive notifications on traveling sex offenders who have previously been convicted of serious sexual crimes against children.
It is the same horror story over and over. Child predators thrive on secrecy that allows them to commit—with impunity—heinous crimes against children. International Megan’s Law will ensure that potential predators are on the radar of U.S. and foreign law enforcement.
It has taken many years to get the bill passed. But having collaborated with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the State Department, and colleagues in the Senate and House, we can celebrate enactment of an exceptionally well-designed law.