Francis issued the new laws as a Moto Proprio, meaning the document was his own initiative, Vatican Radio said.
Sexual and physical abuse were already crimes under church law, but are now specifically against the law within the Vatican, which is home to hundreds of people.
The change broadens the category of crimes against minors to include the sale of children, child prostitution, the recruitment of children, sexual violence and sexual acts with children, and the production and possession of child pornography.
The provisions of several international conventions were incorporated directly into the Vatican legal system. In addition, new legislation introduces a list of crimes against humanity, also adopting language from the Geneva Conventions, including genocide, apartheid, racial discrimination, torture and life imprisonment.
In light of recent fraud investigations within the Vatican, a number of administrative laws have been enacted as well.
New legislation also introduces a system of penalties for juridical persons who profit from the criminal activities of their constituent bodies or personnel, establishing their direct liability and providing penalties.
While presumption of innocence and due process have been recognized explicitly, the power of judicial authorities to adopt precautionary measures has been increased by allowing for confiscation and the freezing of assets.