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Saturday, November 8, 1997 Published at 16:29 GMT



World

The year the children suffered

Thousands demonstrate in Brussels in memory of the children who died in Belgium's worst sex scandal

Few countries have escaped the paedophile scandals that have made so many headlines in the past year.

Early signs are that they may prompt a tightening up of laws on how to deal with paedophiles and to clamp down on "sex tourism", but there are fears that the Internet is increasingly being used to advertise child pornography.

Here are some of the sad stories that made the news around the world:

Belgium

More than a quarter of a million people demonstrated in Brussels during October 1996 over what they saw as the mishandling by the authorities of an investigation into the kidnapping, sexual abuse and murder of children.

Many Belgians were convinced that some of the murders could have been prevented if the police had handled the cases properly. Furthermore there were allegations that some policemen and politicians had interfered with the investigation.

In November 1997 the European Parliament called on Belgium's judge at the European Court of Justice, Melchior Wathelet, to resign.

Mr Wathelet is a former Belgian Justice Minister, and parliament criticised him for allowing a convicted child rapist, Marc Dutroux, to be released early from prison. Mr Dutroux is the chief suspect in Belgium's worst paedophile case, and accused of murdering at least four girls and burying them on property he owned.

Britain

More than 250,000 British men over 20 have been convicted of a sex offence, official figures released in June 1997 showed.

Of these, the crimes of 125,000 were serious enough to require registration with the police under laws introduced in the last Parliament.

Government figures showed that one in 60 men born in 1953 had a sex offence by the age of 40. At least 10% offended again within five years.

Poland

Polish police investigating what was feared to be the country's biggest child sex scandal announced in November 1996 that they believed European and Russian citizens were involved.

A spokesman in the city of Szczecin, where the child prostitution ring was uncovered, said a computer list containing more than 1,000 names included about 100 foreign clients.

France

Two men were convicted in France during September 1997 of supplying paedophile videos to a nationwide network of clients. The man who shot the films in Colombia received a three-year sentence while the distributor of the films was jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Nearly 70 people were fined or given suspended jail terms for possessing the paedophile videos. The family of a teacher questioned by the French police in an investigation into suspected paedophiles began legal proceedings against them in June 1997 following his suicide.

Four other people killed themselves after the highly publicised raids and there was much public criticism of the conduct of the police investigation. The legal authorities called the suicides regrettable.

Italy

Police arrested 17 people in an operation in June 1997 against criminals producing pornographic films of children at an elementary school in Naples.

The Italian parliament immediately proposed new legislation to toughen penalties against child abusers and distributors of pornographic material involving children. The government bill, which also covers people who travel abroad for sex with children, has all-party support.

Spain

Ten people were arrested during July 1997 in Barcelona in connection with a paedophile network involving 20 children aged between five and 14.

The children were reported to have been offered to the network by their families, in exchange for money. The sexual abuse was photographed and filmed.

In October 1996, Spanish police broke up a ring distributing child pornography on the Internet. Two men alleged to have been the ringleaders were arrested in Barcelona.

Sri Lanka

A judge and two policemen from Switzerland arrived in Sri Lanka during February 1997 as part of an investigation into a suspected Swiss paedophile.

A senior police official said the suspect had a young Sri Lankan boy with him when he was arrested in Bern. He said the man may have taken more Sri Lankan boys to Switzerland.

In October 1997 child care experts in Sri Lanka warned that child prostitution was being promoted to foreigners on the Internet, making it one of the worst countries for child abuse.

There were up to 600 Internet advertisements for Sri Lankan children, said an official, mainly boys. Local middlemen are used to find children of the required age for paedophiles, who then travel to the country, mostly from Europe.

Thailand

A leading child protection agency said tougher action by a number of countries is helping to curb the global menace of sex tourism and the trade in children.

Officials from the organisation, End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism, told reporters in Thailand during August 1997 that laws governing the conviction of paedophiles had been tightened in more than 20 countries in the past 12 months.

There was also a heightened awareness of the problem, although much more needed to be done: the organisation said the trafficking of children into prostitution was now the world's most lucrative illegal trade after drugs and arms.

Australia

Officials in Australia said that two men who gassed themselves in a car near the city of Brisbane in November 1997 were members of a ring of paedophiles under investigation by police.

A third man is in hospital in a critical condition.

All three were among a group of social and health workers under investigation for allegations of sexual abuse against children. The suicides followed raids on the men's homes in which computer files and child pornography were seized.










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