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Tuesday, October 6, 1998 Published at 13:37 GMT 14:37 UK


Child prostitutes 'victims not criminals'

The scale of child prostitution in the UK is unknown

Child prostitutes are to be treated as victims not offenders under new guidelines to be announced by the Home Office.

Home Office minister Alun Michael also promised that links between courts, social services, schools and health services would be improved, and the link between child abuse in the UK and overseas will be investigated.

He was speaking at the UK-hosted Asia-Europe (ASEM) summit conference on children which hopes to establish a strategy to prevent European paedophile 'sex tourists' preying on Asia's estimated one million child prostitutes.

'Combat this evil'

Kim Catcheside: "Each year in Britain there are about 200 cautions and 100 prosecutions of children selling sex"
Mr Michael said: "Children throughout the world have a right to their childhood.

"Sexual exploitation strips children of their self-respect, integrity and safety. Their childhood is stolen.

[ image: Alun Michael: Setting out the changes in the law]
Alun Michael: Setting out the changes in the law
"By working together in the UK and throughout the world we can combat this evil successfully."

Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett said one million children were estimated to be involved in the sex trade in Asia.

An estimated 300,000 child prostitutes worked on the streets in the US and children as young as eight were selling themselves for food, cigarettes or miniatures of vodka in Moscow, he said.

He told the conference that law enforcement agencies from Europe and Asia must meet to tackle prostitution "on a scale we find difficult and distressing to believe".

Police organisations, charities, children's groups and representatives from the private sector are attending three days of discussions.

The problem has become particularly pressing in view of the economic crisis in Asia which experts believe will drive more children into the sex industry.

International register

Measures that the summit is hoping to agree to include making national sex offender registers available to foreign police forces, an Internet guide to sex legislation in Asian and European states and social worker exchanges.

Mr Michael said that the British government is already conducting an extensive review of UK sex offender legislation and suggested that British citizens who commit offences abroad could be added to the sex offenders register by the end of the year.

In addition, UK police forces are already training officers from Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand in anti-sex tourism measures.

However, Mr Michael admitted that he had no idea of the scale of child prostitution in the UK, because it is a "hidden" problem.

Coordinator for the End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking campaign (ECPAT), Christine Beddoe, welcomed the ASEM initiatives, but warned that there had been agreements in the past where "nothing has been followed through".

Long-term commitment

She cited plans agreed by the 122 nations that attended the 1996 World Congress Against the Commercial and Sexual Exploitation of Children in Stockholm.

"It is a disappointment and an embarrassment that only a handful of countries have even gone down the track of starting to initiate these programs," she said.

"We would like to see a commitment to ensuring that there is implementation of the strategy and that there is a commitment to long term resources as well."

She said the message about the child sex trade should be prominent on the "front desks of hotels, with tour guides and airline staff".

She called for money to back up the new strategy saying it was "far too early to pat ourselves on the back".

The summit, hosted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is being attended by all member states of the European Union, Brunei, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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