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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 August 2007, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Sarkozy's anti-paedophile action-plan
By Alasdair Sandford
BBC News, Paris

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (right) flanked by Justice Minister Rachida Dati announces anti-paedophile measures on 20 August 2007
Mr Sarkozy's plan targets offenders at the end of their sentences
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has lost no time since returning from holiday in demonstrating that his political touch has not deserted him.

His response to a shocking news story - the alleged abduction and rape of a young boy by a serial sex offender who had just been freed from jail - was vintage Sarko.

Flanked by senior ministers on the steps of the Elysee Palace, the president announced a handful of simple, direct measures on an emotive topic - protecting children from paedophiles - that he knows will go down well with the public.

No more reduced sentences for sex offenders; secure hospitals for those still considered dangerous at the end of their sentences; tougher controls for those who are freed.

'Chemical castration'

The populist language was familiar.

I don't understand how someone is sentenced to 27 years and only serves 18
Nicolas Sarkozy

He was not afraid, Mr Sarkozy said, to call hormonal treatment for paedophiles "chemical castration".

On the convicted paedophile who allegedly attacked the five-year-old boy, he said: "I don't understand how someone is sentenced to 27 years and only serves 18."

In a matter of minutes, President Sarkozy cut through a mountain of law and regulation in a highly complicated area to get to the heart of what concerns people: punishment for criminals, and protection for their potential victims.

But the cold light of day has brought reservations and no little criticism.

The Socialist mayor of Lyon, Gerard Colomb, said he was surprised at the choice of his city as the site of the first secure hospital for paedophiles, to be opened in 2009.

The decision, he said, had been taken without consulting either politicians or local health officials.

The prison workers union has pointed out that a secure centre for treating paedophiles already exists in France - inside the prison at Caen.

Francis Evrard, the man accused of attacking the young boy, was among its inmates, up to three-quarters of whom are sex offenders. The union claims the centre does not work properly due to underfunding.

Lack of resources

The past decade has seen three significant changes in the law on sex offenders.

The latest, on repeat offenders, was only passed earlier this month. But each time, a shocking crime has put the system's deficiencies into sharp focus.

Magistrates have said the legal weaponry exists, but the main problem is a lack of resources.

A national register listing the names and addresses of thousands of paedophiles has been deemed to be insufficient.

There have been experiments with electronic tagging, but so far only on a handful of offenders.

An experiment to treat paedophiles "chemically" was launched in 2004. Three years on, it has produced little by way of results.

Mr Sarkozy's action plan targets sex offenders at the end of their sentences, and the question of their release back into society.

'Monumental error'

But according to some professionals, how paedophiles are treated while they are in detention is in need of urgent review.

Magistrates' unions have criticised the lack of measures in this area.

One former chief doctor at a large prison in Paris told Le Parisien newspaper that little would be solved unless treatment began as soon as offenders went to jail.

Veronique Vasseur said many rejected offers of psychiatric or psychological help, as sex offenders were despised by other inmates and tried to keep a low profile.

The system's failings have been further highlighted by the astonishing prescription in jail of the anti-impotence drug Viagra for the boy's alleged attacker.

"A monumental error, completely absurd," said Ms Vasseur.

But under a 1994 law, the doctor who did so no longer had automatic access to the prisoner's criminal record.

He has told Le Parisien that he was one of only two doctors for a centre with more than 800 prisoners.

Last week France was patting itself on the back over the success of its nationwide alert system, that led to the missing boy's rapid rescue and his alleged aggressor's arrest. The EU is looking at ways of extending it to other countries.

Yet in its overall treatment of paedophiles, France still lags some way behind.


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