"Zero Tolerance" Plan Targets Child Sexual Abuse

140 Countries Back a Proposal at Budapest Conference

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BUDAPEST, Hungary, NOV. 22, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Stephen Woodhouse doesn´t mince words when talking about the problem of child sexual abuse.

«We are fighting a war that is comparable to that of Afghanistan,» says the director of UNICEF´s main office in Europe.

Woodhouse was one of the speakers at a conference on «Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation,» promoted by the Council of Europe and the Hungarian government, and held in Budapest.

The conference was organized in preparation for the U.N.-called meeting scheduled Dec. 17-20 in Yokohama, Japan.

Conservative estimates say that more than 1 million children worldwide are victims of sexual exploitation. They are forced to prostitute themselves or to engage in acts to supply the growing market for child pornography.

Europe is not immune to the problem. Liz Kelly, of the Study Center on Sexual Abuse of North London University, said: «Along with sexual tourism and a very high level of consumption of child pornography, Western Europe represents the privileged market for the exploitation of minors and the traffic of women and children, which has as its base the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.»

A multimillion-dollar business is carried out by criminal gangs with strong international connections. They act quite freely in countries where government is weak and where poverty is acute.

«The sexual exploitation of children for profit is becoming a transnational phenomenon and is often connected with organized crime,» said Guy De Vel, the director general of the Council of Europe´s legal affairs.

«Hence the urgent need to promote cooperation among states and to pressure them to take drastic measures against this terrible crime, both at the domestic and international levels,» he added.

On Wednesday, 140 countries of Europe and Central Asia approved a «zero tolerance» document aimed at both the consumers and producers of all forms of child sexual exploitation. The document represents part of the nations´ contribution to the Yokohama conference.

The document calls for penalties for the possession of child pornographic material. It also calls for the prosecution of so-called sex tourists in their homeland.

Most of these «tourists» cannot be labeled pederasts in the strict sense, the conference said. They are «normal» people who, when there are no controls and there is certainty of impunity, travel to distant countries, often with the complicity of unscrupulous tourist agencies, to experience a relation with a minor.

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