Sunday, November 21, 2004

Extraterritorial Jurisdiction and Child-Sex Tourism

In a federal trial concluded Friday in Santa Ana, California, an 86-year-old man was convicted of six felonies including intent to travel abroad for the purpose of engaging in illicit sex. According to the New York Times, John W. Seljan, 86, said that he had been traveling to Southeast Asia, a region notorious as a sex tourism destination, at least three times a year for the past two decades.

Seljan was prosecuted under the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-21). Section 105 of the statute states:

Travel With Intent To Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct.--A person who travels in interstate commerce or travels into the United States, or a United States citizen or an alien admitted for permanent residence in the United States who travels in foreign commerce, for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct with another person shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.

The italicized portion of this section of the PROTECT Act permits the extraterritorial exercise of U.S. jurisdiction under the nationality principle.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, posts a fact sheet that lists individuals arrested for child-sex tourism. Of the nine men listed, two are not U.S. citizens. Five of the nine have been charged but not yet convicted. Of the four convictions, only Seljan's case went to trial.

With sex tourism thriving in countries where the government is either unable or unwilling to address problems such as sex slavery and child prostitution, the developed countries whose citizens make such practices profitable are increasingly exercising extraterritorial jurisdiction in an effort to curtail the global sex trade. (It is estimated that a quarter of the world's child-sex tourists are Americans.) World Vision, with funding from the United States Government, has launched an ad campaign that includes billboards (in English) in countries such as Cambodia aimed at alerting sex tourists to the possibility of prosecution for crimes committed abroad. One such ad says, "Abuse a child in this country, go to jail in yours."

Although not limited in its scope to the child-sex trade, the dimensions of the problem can be seen in the Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons Report.