Foreigners convicted of sexually abusing children in Moldova will be mandatorily castrated, according to new legislation introduced Tuesday.
Parliament approved the law by a majority after lawmakers said the impoverished nation was attracting pedophiles from the West. It will become effective July 1.
The new law states foreign and Moldovan nationals found guilty of pedophilia will be chemically castrated, while courts will rule separately on those found guilty of rape.
The move was immediately criticized by the Council of Europe, the pan-European human rights group, which said chemical castration should involve consent, and offenders should be properly informed about procedure while the law should have been preceded by a public debate.
Valeriu Munteanu, a Moldovan Liberal Party lawmaker, said the measure was necessary after public outrage over several cases involving U.S. and West European nationals.
"The Republic of Moldova has been transformed in recent years into 'a tourist destination' for Western pedophiles and there have been cases where rapists have repeatedly offended even after they served prison time," said Munteanu, opening the debate.
The measure has broad support in Moldova, one of Europe's poorest nations, where many believe that the country has an international reputation as a top destination for sex tourists.
There have been nine convictions for child sex offenses in the country in the past two years _ five of which were of foreigners from Western Europe. Child sex offenders risk prison sentences of up to 20 years and in some cases life sentences.
Chemical castration involves the administration of testosterone-suppressing hormones every three months, which are intended to curb sexual drive and male fertility.
The new legislation follows similar developments in other countries, which have been moving ahead with laws allowing mandatory chemical castration for sex offenders.
The Czech republic has mandatory chemical castration for some offenders, a matter which is decided by the courts, and Poland legalized the procedure in 2009 for offenders who rape minors or close relatives.
Russian lawmakers in October gave first-round approval to a bill that would impose chemical castration on repeat sex offenders in apparent reaction to a string of highly publicized pedophile scandals.
The Council for Europe in February called on Germany to do away with the practice of surgical castration, calling the procedure degrading to convicted criminals. In a report released in Strasbourg, France, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture acknowledged that the German procedure is voluntary and carried out only under extremely well-controlled circumstances. The committee also criticized the Czech Republic in 2009 for its use of surgical castration.
A spokesman for the committee on Tuesday called for "safeguards" against the potential arbitrary use of the procedure so that it would only be used with the agreement and full understanding of the offender.
"There should be free and informed consent before the commencement of treatment," said Johan Friestedt in a telephone call to The Associated Press. "There is a tendency to adopt such laws without much public debate."
Elsewhere, in Britain, Denmark and Sweden sex offenders are offered chemical castration drugs on a voluntary basis. In the United States, several states have laws allowing chemical castration.
In Turkey a draft proposed last year by legislators from the conservative, Islamic-rooted ruling party for the chemical castration of pedophiles and rapists received little support and has since been shelved.
In France, a bill brought before France's National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, proposing making chemical castration mandatory for those convicted of raping minors younger than 15 failed to pass a constitutional committee, and was dropped.
Associated Press Writers Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland, David Rising in Berlin, Germany, Karel Janicek, in Prague, the Czech Republic, Nataliya Vasilyeva, in Moscow, Russia, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey and Sarah DiLorenzo, in Paris contributed to this report.