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US child sex offenders to be ID’d on passports

Travellers wait in line at the immigration checkpoint at Phnom Penh International Airport in 2015.
Travellers wait in line at the immigration checkpoint at Phnom Penh International Airport in 2015. Vireak Mai

US child sex offenders to be ID’d on passports

Americans with past child sex convictions will now be identified as offenders in their passports, the US State Department announced last week.

The policy is required under legislation passed in 2016 known as the “International Megan’s Law”, which aims to protect children from being sexually abused or exploited by American nationals abroad.

Under the law, a sentence is added to the back of passports identifying sex offenders – a change welcomed yesterday by Cambodian government officials, who say they do not have the resources to conduct background checks on foreigners trying to enter the country.

Sok Veasna, a director at the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Immigration, said the department would train immigration officers to look for the notice once they are officially informed of the change by the American government.

“[The law] helps us to identify sex offenders because most of the time we don’t want them to enter Cambodia,” Veasna said.

The identifier would ostensibly prevent people like Robert Boehlein – a convicted American sex offender who is facing charges of raping a 5-year-old in Battambang after leaving the US without informing authorities – from entering the Kingdom in the first place.

However, Jim McCabe, director of the Child Protection Unit, said the decision to put the sentence on the back cover is “rather weak”, as it could either be covered up or missed by immigration officials.

McCabe called on the US to follow in the footsteps of Australia, which voted in June to revoke the passports of convicted child sex offenders entirely upon request from a “competent authority”. The law is expected to go into effect in December.

“It’s unfortunate,” McCabe said. “I think [the US has] missed an opportunity to have a real impact to prevent US citizens from travelling abroad to abuse children.”

According to the State Department announcement, the identifier 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)”. Convicted sex offenders who already have passports will have them revoked and will be required to apply for a new one.

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