Child sex tourism: it's a crime

Shameful journeys

Canadians travel for many reasons. Business, vacation, adventure and relaxation.

Some may travel abroad for the purpose of sexually exploiting children. This practice is known as “child sex tourism”. Such travellers take advantage of the poverty and powerlessness of children in foreign countries, expecting to exploit weaknesses in law enforcement. 

Experts estimate that more than one million children around the world are lured or sold into the sex trade each year, often as a result of poverty.

The Canadian government is committed to protecting children from this abuse.

It's a crime

The sexual abuse and exploitation of children is a criminal offence around the world. Most foreign countries vigorously enforce existing national laws to combat the sexual exploitation of children within their borders by foreign visitors. Harsh penalties, such as long prison sentences and, in some countries, the death sentence, are imposed on offenders who sexually exploit children.

In Canada, it is illegal for anyone to engage in any prohibited sexual activity with children below the age of consent. These prohibitions encompass all sexual activity ranging from sexual touching to sexual intercourse. It also prohibits:

  • possessing, making, distributing, making available, accessing, transmitting, selling, importing and exporting child pornography;
  • obtaining for consideration the sexual services of a young person or communicating with anyone for the purpose of obtaining those services for consideration (i.e., the prostitution of a young person);
  • incest;
  • engaging in bestiality in the presence of or by a child; and
  • exposure of genitalia for a sexual purpose to a child. 

The legal age of consent is 18 years for sexual activity involving prostitution or pornography or where it involves a relationship of trust, authority or dependency, or one that is otherwise exploitative of the young person. The legal age of consent for all other sexual activity is 16 years.

Convictions in Canada carry severe penalties of up to 14 years' imprisonment as well as mandatory minimum prison sentences.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Canada who engage in any of these prohibited sexual activities with a child in a foreign country can also be charged and prosecuted in Canada for these child sex tourism offences where they have not been convicted of these offences in the foreign country.

Canada’s Criminal Code specifically prohibits child sex tourism since May 26, 1997. Many other countries have passed similar child sex tourism laws.

More information on these and other related provisions of the Criminal Code can be obtained from the Department of Justice Canada.

Obligations for internationally convicted sex offenders

Canada’s Criminal Code requires persons who have been convicted of a sex offence in another country and released by that country to provide the following information to local police services within seven days of arriving in Canada: their name; date of birth; gender; address in Canada; and the conviction/offence. They must also communicate any change in address to police services within seven days. These individuals must report this information so that the attorney general or minister of justice of the province/territory can make a decision regarding their inclusion in the National Sex Offender Registry and compliance with the Sex Offender Information Registration Act. Persons failing to report are subject to criminal prosecution. Further information on the National Sex Offender Registry is available from Public Safety Canada or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

A word to Canadian parents

Children often travel abroad as part of school trips or educational exchange programs. Things can go wrong. Canada's consular representatives are available worldwide to help in situations where your child has voiced a complaint regarding sexual abuse while in a foreign country.

In the event of a sexual assault by one Canadian against another Canadian, consular officials are available to put you in touch with law enforcement authorities to determine whether Canadian Criminal Code provisions apply. In other cases of possible sexual assault, or any other difficult or traumatic incidents involving your child in a foreign country, Canadian consular representatives can assist by:

  • checking on the welfare of your child;
  • facilitating contact with the relevant authorities;
  • contacting relatives in Canada;
  • providing a list of local doctors and lawyers; and
  • ensuring that treatment by the courts and law enforcement officials is equal to the standards applied to nationals of that country

What to do

Whether you are in Canada or a foreign country, you can visit cybertip.ca to report an allegation of child sexual exploitation by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada abroad. The information will be forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement authority, who will decide if an investigation or enforcement action is required.

If you are abroad, consular representatives at the nearest Canadian embassy or consulate can provide you with information and assistance.

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