Beginning in 2017, the U.S. Department of State began labeling the passports of some people convicted of sex crimes. Any registrant convicted of a sex offense involving a minor must have an identifier on his/her passport. The law is an effort to combat “sex tourism” by putting foreign countries on notice when a person with a prior conviction for such an offense travels internationally.
The Passport Law
In 2017, the “International Megan’s Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders” went into effect. The law is named after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old girl who was murdered in 1994 by a person who had previously sexually assaulted a child.
Under the law, the passports of some people convicted of sex crimes against children must bear an identifier. Beginning October 31, 2017, the Department of State began marking affected passports with the following:
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).
Additionally, the law imposes criminal penalties on covered persons for failure to provide the government with advance notice of international travel plans. And the law further provides for the revocation of passports that do not contain the identifier.
Overall, the goal of the International Megan’s Law is to combat “sex tourism” and the exploitation of children. “Sex tourism” is travel planned specifically for the purpose of sex, generally to a country where sex work is legal.
What the Passport Law Means
The law doesn’t prevent registered offenders from having passports or from international travel. Only those convicted of sex tourism crimes are not able to get U.S. passports. However, the identifier on the passport may limit their entry into foreign countries. Note that the identifier doesn’t apply to those convicted of sex offenses against adults.
Any person convicted of a sex offense against a child who is required to register must have the identifier. If a new passport isn’t obtained, the Department of State will likely revoke the current passport and re-issue one with the identifier. Those on the registry with plans for international travel are advised to confirm the validity of their passports.
Issues With the Law
Clearly, the law has noble intentions. However, there are some crimes against children covered by this law that aren’t really related to trafficking of children. For example, those who commit so-called statutory offenses must have the passport identifier. A 19-year-old convicted of engaging in sexual relations with a 15-year-old could be affected by the law. And it could also cover those who shared naked pictures of themselves while they were underage.
Further, there is no known empirical evidence showing a connection between sex tourism and those who offend against children. The law presumes those on the registry are likely to re-offend, even though most sex offenses are perpetrated by those not on on a public registry. Indeed, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that in a five-year period, there were only three people currently on a public registry who were convicted of sex offenses in foreign countries.
- U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, “Passports and International Megan’s Law.” Available at: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/passports/passports-and-international-megans-law.html (last accessed Jan. 29, 2020).
- Guy Hamilton-Smith, “We’re Putting Sex Offender Stamps on Passports. Here’s Why It Won’t Curb Sex Tourism & Trafficking,” The Appeal (Nov. 9, 2017). Available at: https://theappeal.org/were-putting-sex-offender-stamps-on-passports-heres-why-it-wont-curb-sex-tourism-trafficking/ (last accessed Jan. 29, 2020).