BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Saturday, 26 July, 2003, 00:52 GMT 01:52 UK
Portugal awakens to horror of abuse
By Angus Crawford
BBC, Lisbon

arrest of caretaker
The scandal began with the arrest of a caretaker and grew from there
Portugal is in the grip of a paedophile scandal involving state-run orphanages, politicians, and TV stars.

The allegations involve the organised abuse of children and stretch back 30 years - there is talk of a widespread cover up.

Some social commentators say it represents the greatest upheaval in Portuguese society since the revolution in 1974.

Pedro Namora, a successful lawyer, remembers his days at the Casia Pia orphanage.

A man, who was a trusted employee at what was one of Portugal's most respected institutions, is now under arrest after a police investigation launched last November.

"I know that he raped 11 children" says Mr Namora.
Portuguese society looked in the mirror and said we are ugly
Law professor, Marcelo Nuno Rebelo de Sousa
"He would come to their rooms, tie them to the beds and assault them."

Famous names

Casa Pia was founded in 1870 and has cared for some of the country's most vulnerable children ever since.

It now has more than 4,000 pupils, including the deaf and the blind.

children praying
Calls to victim support organisations are now increasing
But the scandal goes far deeper.

Police have questioned a senior socialist politician, two of the country's most famous TV stars, doctors and lawyers.

Almost every week the media reports other famous names alleged to have been involved with the organised abuse of children.

The affair has shocked Portugal - insular and traditional, which emerged from half a century of dictatorship only 30 years ago.

"We had the revolution - that was a shock. But the second shock was the Casa Pia case," says Marcelo Nuno Rebelo de Sousa, a professor of law and social commentator.

What is at stake now, he believes, is faith in the rule of law.

"Portuguese society looked in the mirror and said we are ugly," he says.

"It is not just solving the Casa Pia case, it's believing in democracy. It is believing we belong to Europe not just because we are in the European Union, but because we have a democratic system where justice works."

Reform opportunity

The scandal has also seen an awakening to the wider problems of sexual abuse.

Pedro Namora
Many of my friends from that time are dead - some of them killed themselves, others were addicts and overdosed. Many are in jail, and some are down and out
Pedro Namora
The country's victim support organisation, APAV, has been running TV adverts.

Calls to its helpline have significantly increased.

"Before Casa Pia" admits APAV's Claudi Belchior "it was something that would be kept silent for years and years... nowadays they are coming forward to report sexual abuse"

Bagao Felix, the government minister responsible for Casa Pia, says it is time for root and branch reform.

"When there is a crisis there is always an opportunity - a new way of protecting and educating these young people," he says.

As for Pedro Namora, asked what he wants for the future he has a simple answer - "Justice".

Timeline: Portugal
30 Apr 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Portugal
23 Jul 03  |  Country profiles

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific