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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 21:08 GMT
Czech town a haven for paedophiles
Cheb, Czech Republic
The picturesque town of Cheb in the Czech Republic is famed for its old square full of historic houses. But as BBC Radio 4 Today reporter Sanchia Berg discovered, it has gained a different reputation - as a centre for child prostitution.

Reporters working undercover for the Today programme were offered girls of nine and 11 for sex when they posed as German tourists.

The head of a German charity claims she has seen with her own eyes babies being handed into German cars "obviously for customers".

Katrin Schauer has been working with prostitutes in Cheb for nearly eight years.

She says most children offering sex are young teenagers, but she and her colleagues have seen far younger children standing by the side of the street, accompanied by adults who signal to passing German cars.

She believes the town now attracts paedophiles from across Western Europe.

She has been told of "customers" from Holland, Austria and Switzerland, as well as Germany.

In the past, she says, there would be clear signals in houses where children were being offered - a child's shoe in the window of an apartment for example.

But now that prostitution is more established, customers seem to know exactly where to go.

Girls offered

A German journalist, Rudiger Rossig, posed as a sex tourist for the Today programme and secretly recorded his conversations.

He didn't even need to go into one of the scores of brothels in the small town.

As he walked along a quiet town centre street late in the evening with a colleague from Prague, he was approached by a man with a teenage girl by his side.

He was asked in German whether he would be interested in "something".


Unfortunately, they (the Czech interior ministry) are not devoting the kind of attention to it which I think they should

John Mottram, police adviser to Czech Government
Rossig suggested his colleague might be interested in younger girls.

The man said he could provide two girls of nine and 11 for 180 euros and suggested the two men accompany him to an apartment.

Rossig asked whether the girls could instead be brought to an Irish bar on the street where they were talking.

To his surprise the man agreed, but insisted payment would have to be made whether Rossig took the girls or not.

At the bar, Rossig decided to make his excuses and leave, but the pimp and his associates started to threaten him.

Rossig and his colleague made a token payment and managed to sprint out of the bar.

"Confidence Trick"

The following morning, I recounted the episode to the town mayor, Jan Svoboda.

He said that this was a common confidence trick and he doubted that any child would have been provided.

He said that the problem of child prostitution had been "overplayed".

He said that it was a difficult issue to tackle because "girls of 13, 14 are pretty much grown up... so the question is, what age are you talking about?"

The legal age of consent in the Czech Republic is 15.

The pimp had told Rossig that there was "no problem" with the police in Cheb.

Low priority

UK police Superintendent John Mottram, currently working as an adviser to the Czech Government on organised crime, said even the interior ministry in Prague did not see prostitution as a priority.

"Unfortunately, they are not devoting the kind of attention to it which I think they should," he told me.

He believes that in the long term, Czech membership of the European Union will ease the problem of child prostitution.

But Katrin Schauer is more apprehensive.

She worries that as border controls are relaxed, sex tourists will be able to take children out of the Czech republic - and maybe traffic them on from there.

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