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Friday, 20 October, 2000, 21:01 GMT 22:01 UK
Sex 'tourist' gets seven years
Child prostitutes
Child prostitution is a big problem in Thailand
A man has been sentenced by a French court to seven years in jail for a serious sexual assault on an 11-year-old girl while on holiday in Thailand.


She did nothing, either by her actions or her words, to encourage me to do anything

Amnon Chernouil

It is the first case to be held in France for a sexual offence against a child committed abroad, and activists hope it will deal a serious blow to the sex tourism industry.

Paris public transport worker Amnon Chemouil, 48, forced the girl to give him oral sex. Under French law he was convicted of rape.

In his final words to the court before the jury retired to consider its verdict, he broke down and apologised to the girl, now 17, for stealing her childhood.

Video

"I want to tell the victim that the guilty party, and that is me, bears all the responsibility for what happened. She did nothing, either by her actions or her words, to encourage me to do anything," Chemouil said between sobs.

Sex tourist
Unicef estimates that 400,000 children are sex workers in Thailand
"I hope that these words will bring her a little peace and help her rediscover the childhood I stole from her."

The court also ordered Chemouil to pay damages of 50,000 French francs ($6,500) to the girl, whom he sexually assaulted in a hotel room in the Thai beach resort of Pattaya in February 1994.

Chernouil was caught because his travelling companion, Viktor Michel, made a videotape of the sexual encounter.

Paedophile ring

Mr Michel, from Switzerland, identified Mr Chemouil when police, investigating a paedophile ring, raided his home and found the pornographic recording.

Children
Aids has led to younger children being recruited as sex workers
The girl appeared in court on Thursday to give evidence against her attacker.

Chernouil could have been sentenced to up to 20 years in jail.

Jacques Hintzy, president of the French branch of Unicef, said before the case: "This is a trial that should give paedophiles cause for fear, and convince them there is no impunity."

Unicef says that in south east Asia more than a million children are subjected to sexual exploitation, and that because of the Aids epidemic, the gangs that control the prostitution rackets seek out increasingly young girls.

Mr Hintzy said: "Pressure must be brought on public opinion to stop these outrages continuing. Millions of people are having their childhoods stolen."

Landmark trial

The case is also the first of its type in France at which child protection groups like Unicef have been able to play a role as civil plaintiffs alongside the public prosecution.

France is one of several countries that adopted laws in 1994 making possible the prosecution of sexual crimes on minors committed abroad, but lack of evidence has made bringing charges difficult.

French police have launched 20 investigations, but only two trials have ended in convictions for sexual assault.

According to Unicef, Germany has the strongest record in fighting sex tourism with 37 investigations, of which six ended in convictions.

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See also:

15 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Asia's child sex victims ignored
22 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Asia's child sex tourism rising
28 May 99 | Asia-Pacific
Sex tourist jailed in Australia
09 Feb 99 | South Asia
'100 kids abused daily' in Sri Lanka
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