Laws targeting sexual offences against children

The law has been strengthened to increase protection of children from the risk of sexual abuse.

As of 5 July 2021:

For these laws, child means a person under 16 or a person under 18 with an impairment of the mind.

An impairment of the mind, as defined in the Criminal Code, means a disability due to an intellectual, psychiatric, cognitive or neurological impairment (or a combination of these), which leaves the person with both:

  • a substantial reduction in their capacity for communication, social interaction or learning
  • a need for support.

Child sexual offence

A child sexual offence is an offence of a sexual nature committed against a child and includes:

  • Indecent treatment of a child
  • Carnal knowledge with or of a child
  • Rape
  • Incest
  • Grooming a child (or their parent or carer)
  • Making child exploitation material
  • Maintaining a sexual relationship with a child

Indecent treatment of a child covers a range of conduct of a sexual nature. Examples may include:

  • fondling a child in a sexual manner
  • having the child touch a sexual body part
  • taking a sexual photograph of a child.

Grooming a child (or their parent or carer) refers to the way some offenders form relationships and build trust with children, parents, carers, teachers and other children in order to get close to a child and create the opportunity for sexual abuse. It can be difficult to identify because the behaviour itself may not be abusive or sexual. Grooming can often occur online.

Why the laws are needed

Children need the adults around them to take action to protect them from sexual abuse. These offences target behaviour that ignores or hides the sexual abuse of children.

Failure to report

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) found that failing to report child sexual abuse to appropriate authorities allowed it to continue and prevented children from accessing the support they needed.

The Queensland Police Service and the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs (Child Safety) act on reports of sexual offending against children. They are committed to making the community safer for children and ensuring that children and young people are safe from harm.

To do this vital work, these services need adults to report sexual offending against children.

In a number of their case studies, the Royal Commission heard of circumstances where abuse was not reported to police or where steps were not taken to protect children. Reporting a belief that sexual abuse against a child has occurred or is occurring allows police to investigate and respond to child sexual offences.

The laws mean all adults in the community have a legal duty to report sexual offending against children to the police, unless they have a reasonable excuse for not doing so.

Learn more about the failure to report offence.

Failure to protect

The laws also impose a legal duty on certain adults to protect children from sexual offending. Adults in responsible positions in institutions will have an obligation to protect children in their care from known significant risks of sexual abuse.

If you know there is a significant risk that another adult associated with an institution will sexually abuse a child, it is not enough to wait until sexual offending occurs to inform the police. This legal duty to protect focusses on preventing sexual abuse of children.

The intention behind this law is to ensure individuals in institutions take proactive action to reduce or remove known risks to children. The law attaches a criminal penalty to wilful or negligent failures to do so.

Learn more about the failure to protect offence.


Despite the express provisions relating to religious confessions, the offences are not intended to override privilege, including legal professional privilege and sexual assault counselling privilege.

How to report

To report an offence, contact PoliceLink on 131 444.

If it’s an emergency, phone Triple Zero (000).

If you aren’t sure of your reporting obligations at work, talk to your manager or the human resources contacts at your organisation.

You may wish to get legal advice if you are unsure about your legal obligations.

More information

These laws implement recommendations from the Royal Commission and are part of an extensive package of reforms to improve the safety of children and protect them from sexual abuse.

Read more in the Criminal Code (Child Sexual Offences Reform) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2020.

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If you have any questions about the practical operation of the offences, you can email

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Support services

Support, information and advice for victims is available from: