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Paedophilia in the Czech Republic

by Today reporter Sanchia Berg.
The town of Cheb in the Czech Republic is well known as a beautiful place, its old town square full of pastel-washed houses dating back to the eleventh century. But in recent years, it's gained a different reputation - as a centre for child prostitution.

Reporters working undercover for the Today programme were offered girls of 9 and 11 for sex when they posed as German tourists. And the head of a German charity claims she has seen with her own eyes babies being handed into german cars "obviously for customers".

Katrin Schauer has been working with prostitutes in Cheb for nearly eight years. She says the majority of children offering sex are young teenagers, but she and her colleagues have seen far younger children standing by the side of the street, accompanied by adults who signal to passing German cars.

She believes the town now attracts paedophiles from across Western Europe. She has been told of "customers" from Holland, Austria and Switzerland, as well as Germany. She says in the past, there would be clear signals in houses where children were being offered -- a child's shoe in the window of an apartment for example. But now that prostitution is more established, the customers seem to know exactly where to go.

A German journalist, Rudiger Rossig, posed as a sex tourist for the Today programme, secretly recording his conversations. He didn't even need to go into one of the scores of brothels in the small town.

As he walked along a quiet city centre street, at 11pm, accompanied by a colleague based in Prague, he was approached by a small, dark man, with a teenage girl by his side. He who asked in German whether he would be interested in "something".

Rossig suggested his colleague might be interested in younger girls. The man said he could provide two girls of 9 and 11 for €180 Euros (about £120),and suggested the two men accompany him to an apartment. Rossig asked whether the girls could instead be brought to an Irish bar, on the street where they were talking. To his surprise the man agreed, but insisted payment would have to be made, whether Rossig took the girls or not.

At this point, Rossig decided to make his excuses and leave, but the pimp and his associates started to threaten him. Rossig and his colleague made a token payment and managed to sprint out of the bar.

The following morning I recounted the episode to the town mayor, Jan Svoboda. He said that this was a common confidence trick, and he doubted any child would have been provided.

He said that the problem of child prostitution had been "overplayed". He said that it was a difficult issue to tackle because "girls of 13, 14 they're pretty much grown the question is, what age are you talking about?" The legal age of consent in the Czech republic is 15.

The pimp had told Rossig that there was "no problem" with the police in Cheb, and even the interior ministry in Prague do not see prostitution as a priority, according to Superintendent John Mottram, currently working as an advisor to the Czech govenrment on organised crime.

"Unfortunately", he told me ,"they're not devoting the kind of attention to it which I think they should".

Superintendent Mottram believes that in the long term, Czech membership of the European Union will end the problem of child prostitution. But in the shorter term, Katrin Schauer is more apprehensive.

She worries that as border controls are relaxed, sex tourists will be able to take children out of the Czech republic to their home states - and maybe even traffic them on from there.

Czech Government
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The town of Cheb in the Czech Republic
The town of Cheb, in the Czech Republic
Listen - Sanchia Berg reports on paedophilia in the Czech Republic. (09/12/02)
Map of Czech Republic
Map of Czech Republic
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