Call for crackdown on child sex laws
By CNN's Marianne Bray
(CNN) -- Central Asian and European nations have called for all forms of child sexual abuse to be criminalized in a bid to thwart a growing, clandestine industry.
Delegates from 43 countries at a Budapest conference on Wednesday urged action to protect an estimated million children being sexually victimized worldwide -- either in human trafficking, sex tourism, child prostitution or pornography.
Although some countries already prosecute child sex offenders, the laws are often not adequately policed or enforced. Delegates have also demanded that laws be enacted where they do not already exist.
Their call comes just weeks before regional delegations take part in the Second World Congress Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, to be held in the Japanese city of Yokohama in the middle of December.
"This meeting will measure how far we have come and to share practices about what works," Mark Thomas, spokesperson for UNICEF in Bangkok, told CNN.
"In this region we have major problems, especially Cambodia, Thailand, but progress is being made."
The child sex industry is such a money spinner in Asia that the International Labor Organization has estimated that in Thailand alone, it is worth between 14 and 16 percent of the country's GDP.
Meanwhile the UNICEF has said in a background paper that one third of sex workers in the Mekong area are child prostitutes. Surveys show that girls are forced to serve an average of five to 10 customers a day.
Fed by insatiable demand, poverty, discrimination and poor education, aid groups are now targeting weak legislation and organized crime gangs in a bid to dampen the rise of the child sex industry.
In Thailand, aid groups have been working with police and law enforcement agencies so that children who are arrested are not treated as criminals but as victims, says Thomas.
Thailand and Cambodia have also made moves to prosecute locals and well as foreign tourists for pedophilia.
In August this year, one of the FBI's 10 most-wanted fugitives, an alleged pedophile and admitted child molester from the United States, was arrested in Bangkok.
Eric Franklin Rosser, 49, a professional jazz and concert pianist, faces a number of charges over child pornography, including "the production of a videotape in Thailand which depicts sexually explicit conduct between himself and an eleven-year-old female child".
Police had raided his apartment and found hundreds of explicit photographs and videos of girls who appeared to be below the age of 15.
In Thailand, anyone who commits a sexual offence against those aged less than 18 years old, including those who procure, lure or traffic boys and girls for sex, are subject to imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Children under the age of 18 are protected regardless of whether they give their consent or not, according to the UNICEF.
Efforts are also being made to rehabilitate children with counseling, not only in Thailand, but in Laos and Cambodia, Thomas adds.
But despite these advances, Director General of Legal Affairs at the Council of Europe, Guy de Vel, told Budapest delegates on Wednesday that advances in technology have thwarted efforts to crack down on sex crimes against the young.
"We have been overtaken by new technologies -- a much wider use and abuse of the Internet -- and by criminals who are aware of new technologies and use them earlier than governments, courts and police," De Vel told Reuters news agency.
"Our purpose has to be zero tolerance, but you can never totally eradicate any crime."
There is little reliable data on the scope of the child sex trade, and the Internet has added a new dimension to the secretive international market.
The Council of Europe estimates the United States child pornography market alone is worth around $3 billion a year.
Delegates at the Budapest conference called for child sex abuse to be seen within the broader picture. The impact of advertising and mass media must be considered, they said, as must the forces that drive the demand for sex.
More must also be done to review laws, policies and programs, and to strengthen cross-border links to combat the act.
Possession of child pornography must be made a criminal offense, making it easier for police to clamp down on the "porn peddlers" who use Internet chat rooms to sell their wares, delegates told Reuters news agency.
Truckers, taxi drivers, hotel clerks and airlines who turn a blind eye to the child sex trade will be among those targeted in awareness campaigns.
Aid groups have urged the Yokohama ministerial meeting to issue specific measures to tackle "this heinous, intolerable crime."
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