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Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 23:18 GMT
International pledge to tackle child sex
About one million children are being sexually exploited
Forty-two countries from Europe and Central Asia have committed themselves to a crackdown on the sexual exploitation of children.

The commitment was adopted at a conference in the Hungarian capital Budapest organised by the Council of Europe and the United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef.

The only way we're going to make progress is if everyone recognises that we cannot see children as objects to be bought and sold

Stephen Woodhouse, European Director at Unicef
An estimated one million children worldwide - between a quarter and a third of them from Europe and the former Soviet Union - are victims of sexual exploitation.

This ranges from children sold into prostitution, to child pornography on the internet. The Council of Europe estimates the US child pornography market alone is worth around $3bn a year.

In the last decade, many national governments have passed new legislation and international protocols have been adopted.

But delegates stressed that more legislation was necessary and that the use of new technology by criminal groups and delays in the implementation of laws mean that the problem continues to grow.

Organised crime networks

"To use children, some of them very young, and sexually exploit them for profit or any other form of gain is one of the worst criminal acts imaginable," said Guy de Vel, Director General of Legal Affairs at the Council of Europe.

Mr De Vel said the first global conference on the sexual exploitation of children, in Stockholm five years ago, raised awareness of the issues. There had been some progress in tightening laws and cross-border cooperation.

Child porn web site
Paedophiles increasingly use the internet

But he warned that better organised crime networks and advances in technology had overtaken efforts to crack down on sex crimes against the young.

"We have been overtaken by new technologies - a much wider use and abuse of the Internet - and by criminals who are aware of new technologies and use them earlier than governments, courts and police," Mr De Vel said.

Action plan

Each country present committed itself to drawing up a national action plan to tackle the problem by 2003.

Stephen Woodhouse, European Director at Unicef said these must not be "just vague promises" but must provide a framework to protect society's most vulnerable.

"The only way we're going to make progress is if everyone recognises... that we cannot see children as objects to be bought and sold. Children are humans with equal rights," he said.

The conference was part of international preparations for the second world congress against commercial sexual exploitation of children, to be held next month in the Japanese city of Yokohama.

The BBC's Nick Thorpe
"Delegates stressed that more legislation was necessary"
See also:

10 Sep 01 | Americas
Shock over US child sex trade
21 Jun 01 | Americas
Child web users are sex targets
29 Jul 01 | UK
Child prostitution crisis
15 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Asia's child sex victims ignored
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