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Last Updated: Monday, 8 January 2007, 00:25 GMT
Goa - new paedophile's paradise?
By Allan Urry
BBC World Service in Goa

Street children in India
India's street children are particularly vulnerable to abuse
For many years now, certain parts of the world - such as Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam - have had an unsavoury connection with sex tourism: foreigners arriving to sexually abuse children. Now, a BBC investigation finds that the Indian state of Goa may be added to that list.

Child sex tourism is threatening to become the darker side of life in Goa's tropical paradise - and there is evidence that the Indian authorities are turning their back on the problem.

Nishta Desai, a consultant to the organisation Children's Rights In Goa, estimates that there are "hundreds" of children being abused by foreign paedophiles.

"It is not getting the attention it requires," she says.

"We believe it is organised, and already fairly institutionalised.

"It is something that really requires a lot of will to unearth the way it is organised."

Trafficking network

There are various ways that the sex offenders get access. Some approach the children directly on the beach, and offer them a drink or a meal before taking them back their hotel rooms.

Bus in Goa
Traffickers are now filling demand by bussing children into Goa
Others are approached by intermediaries, such as shack owners and motorcycle taxi drivers.

Within half an hour of my being on the beach in north Goa, a young man who called himself Romeo approaches and tells me he knows friends at the nearby town of Mapusa who can help me have fun with girls.

I ask if there are 13-year-old girls, and he replies that "it's no problem," even though the age of consent in Goa is 18.

Non-governmental organisations say that there is such demand in Goa for child sex workers that they are now being trafficked into the state on demand by criminal gangs operating from India.

"Traffickers in Bombay contact the local traffickers and ask them how many girls they want, and then they traffic the girls by buses," explains Arun Pandey, director of charity ARZ, set up to try and rescue children from the sex trade.

"The local traffickers receive these girls from the bus stop and then they supply them to the hotels and lodges... it's a very organised network."

'Hyped' issue

Concern over the problem is shared by the UN office on drugs and crime, which last year began a project to strengthen law enforcement on the issue. It believes as many as three or four million women and children are being trafficked around India.

Subhash Shirodkar
The issue is a little hyped
Subhash Shirodkar, Goan minister for social welfare
In a report, the UN agency said Goa is a "major destination" for children trafficked for paedophiles, and that sex tourism in the state is "significant."

But this is denied by the state's government minister for social welfare, Subhash Shirodkar, who categorically states that "neither Goans nor non-Goans are abused."

"The issue is a little hyped," he adds.

"There may be one or two instances over the last five to 10 years - maybe."

And he also states that he does not think child trafficking is a problem in the state at all.

"I totally disagree with this," he says.

"NGOs are not complaining to me. What prevents them, when every week and every month, they meet with me?"

However, Ms Desai of Children's Rights In Goa says she is not surprised by the minister's denial, saying there is no political will to deal with child prostitution.

"There is a sense of fear that if they take up the problem in a forthright manner, we could lose tourist revenue and give Goa a bad name," she says.

"What we would like to say is that it will not do this - if any country takes on child sexual abuse, it should in fact give that country a good name."

'Bribes'

Perhaps lending credence to this theory is that a report commissioned by the Goan government which estimates at least 100 paedophiles are active there during the tourist season - and speaks of an increasing threat and the need for the government to take firm action - has never been published.

Beach in Goa
NGOs allege ministers do not want to detract from Goa's idyllic image
And on the rare occasions alleged sex tourists have been put before the courts, they have been acquitted; there has been no successful conviction apart from a paedophile ring that was broken up by a national police squad brought in from Delhi.

And NGOs also complain that local police take bribes and keep the problem hushed up.

One senior worker for a charity organisation, who did not wish to be named, said that he actually caught one man with a boy in a hotel bedroom, but that when he reported the case to the police, they dropped it immediately - despite a signed confession from the child who had been abused.

Certainly, the superintendent of Goa's crime division, Vishram Borkar, says that no cases of paedophiles have been investigated in 2006.

"I think we're doing a good job.

"Without a complaint, we cannot proceed further."


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