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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 April 2007, 07:53 GMT 08:53 UK
The story of Megan's Law
Megan Kanka
Megan Kanka was murdered
A Home Office review of the way child sex offenders are handled in the community has decided against a Megan's Law for the UK, the BBC has learned.

The American legislation gives parents access to information on paedophiles living in their community.

Last year, Home Secretary John Reid said he was sending a minister to the US to examine how Megan's Law works.

The law was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and has since been adopted in some form by all 50 states.

It arose from the rape and murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanka.

She was killed by Jesse Timmendequas, a known child molester with two previous convictions for sexual offences.

He had moved into the same neighbourhood as her family without their knowledge.

The murder caused outrage in the US and Megan's parents campaigned for a change in the law to give parents access to information on child sex offenders in their area.

Parents must now be informed when offenders move into their neighbourhood after being freed from prison.

Divided opinions

A number of states list offenders' details on the internet, allowing parents to enter their own details to check if anyone on the register has moved in nearby.

Supporters of the law point to cases where registered sex offenders have been discovered working in amusement parks, youth counselling and other activities involving contact with children.

One Californian grandmother told how she had checked the database after growing suspicious that her daughter-in-law, and mother of her four grandchildren, had re-married a convicted sex offender.

"I said, 'What if he's a rapist?' and sure as hell, he was."

But opponents argue the law encourages acts of vigilantism and does not give offenders who have paid their dues the chance to merge back into society.

They also question the effectiveness of Megan's Law. Past studies have shown that far fewer paedophiles comply with registration requirements in the US than in the UK.

Critics also point out that most cases of child abuse occur within the family, and suggest that victims may stay silent if they know a family member will be denounced.

State differences

Offenders must register their address with the local police upon release from prison, but many give bogus details.

Others have given their details, but travelled outside their local areas to prey on youngsters in neighbourhoods where no-one knew about them.

The law takes different forms in different states.

In Louisiana, the public has complete access to information on offenders and their movements.

One company offers e-mail alerts to families warning of sex offenders moving to homes near them.

In Washington state, law enforcement officers can call at every house in the neighbourhood to warn people about an offender moving in.

Sex offenders in Oregon can be forced to display a sign in their windows.

Some believe that Megan's Law does not go far enough and several states are investigating the use of, or have already introduced, chemical or surgical castration for certain sexual offenders.

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