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Child sexual exploitation

​Federal, state and territory police actively monitor and prosecute child sex offenders. If you have information about possible criminal activity, please call 131 444.

Australia has in place an extensive framework to prevent, investigate and prosecute all forms of child sexual exploitation. This includes offences that occur online within Australia and those committed by Australians overseas.

In April 2010, the Australian Government introduced reforms to further strengthen offences relating to the sexual exploitation of children in overseas travel, as well as offences involving child pornography and child abuse material overseas. The reforms also enhanced the coverage of offences against the use of carriage services, such as the internet and mobile phones, for child pornography and child abuse material.

Child sexual exploitation in overseas travel

Child sexual exploitation in overseas travel (sometimes known as child sex tourism) is an appalling crime, and the Australian Government is committed to doing all it can to prevent its occurrence.

The Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 (Criminal Code) ensures that Australians who travel overseas to sexually abuse children will not escape the tough penalties they would have received if the offences were committed at home.

What is child sexual exploitation in overseas travel?

Child sexual exploitation in overseas travel is a global phenomenon, which generally refers to the sexual exploitation of children by offenders who travel away from their home country in order to have sexual contact with children.

Australian laws make it a crime for Australians to engage in this activity.

Who can be prosecuted for child sex tourism?

The child sex tourism* offences contained in Division 272 of the Criminal Code apply to Australian citizens, residents and bodies corporate even if they commit these offences while overseas.

*This web page uses the term 'child sex tourism' when referring to relevant laws as it reflects the terminology in Division 272 of the Criminal Code. It should be noted that the language contained in Division 272 of the Criminal Code predates a change in terminology from 'child sex tourism' to 'child sexual exploitation in overseas travel'.

What types of activity can amount to child sex tourism?

Child sex tourism offences cover a broad range of activity, including:

  • actual sexual intercourse
  • acts of a sexual nature on children
  • engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child (where the offender intends to derive gratification from the child’s presence).

It is also an offence to prepare for or plan to commit a child sex tourism offence, or to groom or procure a child for sexual activity overseas. These offences allow law enforcement to intervene before sexual activity involving a child takes place.

What are the penalties for these offences?

  • Australians who sexually abuse children overseas can be imprisoned for up to 20 years.
  • Australians who exploit a position of trust or authority or take advantage of a child’s mental impairment to engage in sexual abuse can be imprisoned for up to 25 years.
  • Australians who engage in a sexual relationship with a child over a period of time can be imprisoned for up to 25 years.
  • Australians who groom or procure a child for sexual activity overseas (for example, by using the internet to befriend a child and then trying to turn the relationship into a sexual relationship) can be imprisoned for up to 15 years.
  • Australians who prepare for or plan to commit child sex tourism offences can be imprisoned for up to 10 years.
  • Australians who exploit a position of trust or authority to engage in sexual intercourse with a young person (who is at least 16 but under 18) overseas can be imprisoned for up to ten years.

The Australian Federal Police actively monitors and prosecutes cases of alleged child sexual exploitation in overseas travel. More information can be found on the Australian Federal Police website.

Child exploitation through telecommunications

Child pornography and child abuse material

Under the Criminal Code it is an offence to use a carriage service (which includes the internet, mobile phones and other electronic or wired devices) for child pornography or child abuse material.

What is child pornography and child abuse material?

Child pornography material is defined broadly under the Criminal Code. It includes any material that depicts or represents a minor* who is:

  • engaged in, or appears to be engaged in, a sexual pose or sexual activity (whether or not in the presence of other persons), or
  • in the presence of a person who is engaged in, or appears to be engaged in, a sexual pose or sexual activity.

The definition extends to material that describes or implies a minor engaged in any of the above activities. It also includes any material that depicts the sexual organs, anal region or breast of a minor where the dominant purpose of that material is sexual. 

Child abuse material means material that depicts, or represents a minor as a victim of torture, cruelty or physical abuse. The definition extends to material that describes the torture, cruelty or physical abuse of a minor.

*For the purpose of this section a minor is a person under 18 years of age or a person who appears or is implied to be under 18 years of age.

What conduct is criminalised?

It is an offence to access, transmit, make available, publish, distribute, advertise, promote or solicit child pornography material or child abuse material through the use of a carriage service. It is also an offence to use a carriage services to possess, control, produce, supply or obtain child pornography material or child abuse material.  An offence is aggravated where a person commits an offence on three or more occasions and the commission of the offences involves two or more people. The maximum penalties for these offences range from 15 years’ to 25 years’ imprisonment.

Sexual activity with a person under 16 through telecommunications

It is also illegal for an adult to use a carriage service to transmit indecent communications to, groom, procure or engage in sexual activity (e.g. via a webcam) with a person under 16 years of age. Maximum penalties for these offences range from seven years’ to 25 years’ imprisonment.

Related offences

Under the Criminal Code it is also an offence to use a postal service for child pornography or child abuse material or to groom, procure or send indecent material to a child. This ensures that offenders will be subject to the same maximum penalties no matter how they engage in the offending (that is, either online or through the post).