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Last Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006, 11:14 GMT
Vietnam shows stance with Glitter case
By Kate McGeown
BBC News, Vung Tau, Vietnam

Gary Glitter
Gary Glitter described his conviction as a "conspiracy"
"I'm innocent. This is a conspiracy," said former rock star Gary Glitter as he was led away from a Vietnamese courtroom on Friday.

But the judge thought otherwise, sentencing him to three years in jail for committing lewd acts against two young girls, and describing the disgraced rocker as having "a sickness".

So graphic was the court description of repeated sexual acts involving the two young victims, that the assembled Vietnamese onlookers gasped as some of the details were read out.

Before the verdict, Glitter stood with his arms clasped behind his back, showing no emotion. But on a seat adjacent to him, the mother of one of the victims sat quietly, tears welling up in her eyes.

When the guilty verdict was finally announced, the only surprise came from Glitter himself, who was clearly shocked by his sentence.

With this sentence, we have sent a signal to people like Gary Glitter who want to come to Vietnam
Nguyen Duc Trinh
Deputy chief of the police investigation

But it was not just the disgraced former rock star on trial on Friday. Vietnam's willingness to crack down on paedophiles and other sex offenders was also in the dock.

Much of South East Asia is seen as a magnet for Western sex tourists, and Vietnam is no exception.

In the streets of Vung Tau, where Glitter committed his crime, cheap sex is readily available.

It is easy to find bars and massage parlours with scantily-clad girls eager to entice older Western men.

Western dream

One bar owner, who did not want to be named, said it was the dream of all the girls working in his establishment to marry a Western man.

"Girls in this town don't have many options," he said. "They are just trying to make a living as best they can."
Children at a protection home in Vung Tau
Children benefit from a protection centre in Vung Tau

The girls in these bars look young, but it is often difficult to tell their ages and none are likely to admit to being under 16.

There is little doubt, though, that child prostitution and sex abuse are relatively common in Vietnam.

According to a joint study conducted by the UN children's fund Unicef and the Vietnamese government in 2004, nearly 3% of people surveyed had suffered some form of sexual abuse - from being touched inappropriately to rape.

Children from poor, dysfunctional families are often at risk of being forced into prostitution, and some are even trafficked to other countries in the region, according to Le Hong Loan, Unicef's head of child protection in Ho Chi Minh City.

She said the issue of illegal sex with children - especially sex with foreigners - had not really been addressed adequately before Glitter's trial.

Vung Tau
Before this trial, people here were not aware that tourism can have a bad side
Le Trang Dai
Vung Tau's child protection centre

"The mechanisms were simply not there to deal with the issue," Le Hong Loan said.

But it seems that due to the trial of the once famous, now infamous rock star, the authorities are determined to take action.

"With this sentence, we have sent a signal to people like Gary Glitter who want to come to Vietnam," Nguyen Duc Trinh, deputy chief of the police investigation, said after the trial.

There are already signs of hope for the future. In the centre of Vung Tau, just five minutes drive from Glitter's home, Le Trang Dai spends her days looking after more than 70 children at the town's child protection centre.

Vulnerable youngsters

Like other similar establishments across Vietnam, this government-funded centre, which opened in late 2002, is designed to take in street children and other vulnerable youngsters, and give them a better start in life.

"If there wasn't a centre like this, these children would face many risks and could easily become prostitutes," said Le Trang Dai.

Gary Glitter is driven from court to begin his sentence
Glitter leaves court to begin his sentence

She added that in the wake of Gary Glitter's arrest, work was also underway in the town to advise families who found it difficult to look after their children properly.

"Before this trial, people here were not aware that tourism can have a bad side.

"Now they are more aware of the risks, and will hopefully look out for their children more," she said.

And now that Glitter is facing a jail term and deportation from Vietnam, it appears that the risk to the children of Vung Tau has just got that little bit smaller.

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