Friday, January 2, 1998 Published at 17:12 GMT
Sex for sale as East meets West
Prostitution is said to be the world's oldest profession, but in the Czech Republic it's only really been evident since the end of the communist regime in 1989. Now, prostitutes in towns near the border with Germany line the streets in broad daylight, hoping to make easy money from deutschmark-rich German tourists. Our Prague correspondent, Ray Furlong has just been to the border towns of Teplice and Dubi, where he found a shady world of frontier-town prostitution.
In a bright orphanage playroom in the town of Teplice, not far from the border with Germany, a group of one-year-olds have just had their snack and were looking forward to their mid-moring snooze. In their colourful babysuits and surrounded by cuddly toys, they were blissfully unaware of the uncertain life that lays ahead of them. These children were the unwanted by-products of unions between German sex tourists and prostitutes from all over Eastern Europe.
Less than 15 minutes drive away is the small town of Dubi, nestling in the picturesque hills of north Bohemia. And it's here that many of the children were conceived.
"This was once a normal place", complained the town's chief of police. But a drive down Dubi's main street is enough to convince anyone that it's now far from normal. Almost every building is a brothel. Bright neon signs shine out with names like "Love Story", "Adela Club", or "Saigon Nights", attempting to lure passing motorists.
It's the great misfortune of Dubi that its high street is also the main road between Dresden and Prague. This is where East meets West, or, more precisely, where a country with an average monthly income of about $300 meets the power of the Deutschmark.
The result is a telling lesson of just what money can buy. The E-55 highway is lined with stalls specialising in the lowest common denominator: cheap alcohol, cheap cigarettes, and cheap sex. But it doesn't stop there. There are also reports of a new twist in the oldest profession, of clients paying extra in order to have sex with women who are pregnant.
Nobody is able to explain the attraction. Nevertheless, the head of Teplice hospital's gynacology department told us a story suggesting that the children in the orphanage were not accidents resulting from people not using condoms. A woman who was eight months pregnant had been brought to the hospital in agony. Doctors managed to allay the pain and prevent her giving birth prematurely, he said, but the next day her pimp came in and put her back on the street.
Stories like that might seem hard to believe. But less so after a drive down Dubi's high-road. Scantily-clad girls beckoned from seedy windows where they were sitting like shop display mannequins. Some tried to attract attention by mechanically performing erotic dances, or even by simulating sexual acts together. Others just sat around looking bored and smoking cigarettes. But the message was the same: take your pick and pay at the till.
Jan Ryska, the chief of police in Dubi, told me that the trade is controlled by criminal gangs from various parts of the former Soviet bloc, some of whom force female refugees into prostitution. A short, welcoming man with a shock of curly hair, he looked an unlikely opponent for international gangs carrying out all kinds of mafia activity. And he said that although he was disgusted by what had happened to his town, there was little he could do to stop it.
Mr. Ryska said he had failed to convince the powers-that-be in Prague, two hours drive south, to pass a law regulating prostitution. It was argued, he said, that by allowing prostitution the state would effectively become a pimp. And it seems that no-one in Prague really wants to deal with such a sensitive issue, which leaves it in a legal grey area. Mr. Rysha said women could only be arrested if caught having sex in a public place, which did at least mean the trade had mostly moved off the streets and into the brothels.
This was confirmed when I went on patrol with a police unit in a squad car. Few of the women in the brothel windows were bothered by us driving past and the only problems the police had to deal with was a man complaining that a prostitute had stolen his wallet.
The policemen told me there was a local by-law against prostitution, but that it was unenforceable. For one thing, it was almost impossible to prove. And for another, the only penalty was a fine which was rarely paid. The girl would simply say she had no money, and if summoned to pay later she would not turn up. Since Dubi is only one of many roads from Germany which are lined by prostitutes, it is easy for women to disappear and move on elsewhere.
The chief of police recalled organising raids to close down three brothels run by a Bulgarian gang, but added that he's been criticised for the huge cost of the operation.
Nevertheless, he said, it was either this or a new law that was necessary. And for all the moral objections raised by politicians in Prague, there was widespread agreement in Teplice and Dubi that legalisation was the only way forward.
Everywhere I went, in the town's tiny police station, in the hospital where "father unknown" is written beside the names of prostitutes' children, and in the orphanage they are sent to, there was a strong consensus that if the trade could be legalised it could be brought under control.
And whether this is really the case or not, it is perhaps the only ray of hope for the people of Dubi. Otherwise, with the buying power of German sex tourists unlikely to diminish for the foreseeable future, the number of babies at the Teplice orphanage looks set to keep rising.