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Paedophilia - What Next?



STOCKHOLM, Sweden--The rage and the storm have passed--thus diminishing the hope that the world's governments, in their collective unease, have decided at last to throw their combined weight against the growing cancer of paedophilia, ravaging and spoiling societies all over. Last August, in a veritable blaze of publicity, the Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children was held in Stockholm. 122 countries participated. The press, more than sensitized by gruesome revelations of sexual abuse and child murder in Belgium earlier in the month, turned up the heat. The governments said they WOULD do something.

A week later the U.S. was bombing Iraq once again. It didn't, as usual, do much to damage Saddam Hussein but it did bury the paedophilia story and allowed governments to return to doing what they had pledged to do in Stockholm as a matter of urgency more at their usual pace.

But to quote Julius Caesar: "There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries." Unless we give it everything we've got in a sustained way and get a grip on the vast and inter-related problems of paedophilia, child prostitution and street children--some 100 million children around the world--we're going to have a lot more Saddam Husseins in the not too distant future. Not only is the world's slothfulness not good for children whose formative and most innocent years are made bleak, loveless and wretched, it is not good for society at large which, before very long, will have in its midst millions of adults whose lives were disturbed and disrupted at an early age and who feel they owe the world very little. Resentment can be one of the most destructive of social forces. If nothing sufficient is done the sins of the twentieth century will wreck an appalling havoc on those who will live out most of the twenty-first.

The sexual exploitation of children, despite last August's hoop-la, is a relatively unplumbed subject, surrounded, as Swedish author Ore Narvesen puts it, "by bitter personal experience, family tragedy, taboos, disgrace and suppression."

My own conclusion, after reading his monograph, is that governments are usually overwhelmed by any admonition that says simply, "abolish poverty" and Mr. Harvesen by identifying three fault zones where child prostitution is most common enables scarce resources to be concentrated with some likelihood of effectiveness:

The children of prostitutes: In India one study claims that there are as many as 5 million children alive today who are the offspring of prostitutes. Prostitutes in developing countries rarely use contraceptives, either because they are not easily available or because they cannot afford them.

The children of prostitutes, inevitably, do not experience much family life. They spend large parts of the day and evening left to their own devices. Not surprisingly they are easily lured into a world of drugs, violence, criminality and sexual exploitation. They are close to, if not actually watching, their mothers in compromising, even sadistic, situations. In Brazil children, even at the age of three or four, are sent out to procure for their mothers. By 9 or 10 they are selling their own bodies.

Housemaids: They're often sent into service by desperate parents at a tender age, even as young as 6 or 7. If there is sexual abuse by employers, their sons or friends they are intimidated into silence by the fear of dismissal. Often they become pregnant or the mistress of the house discovers what is going on. Out on the street they face disgrace if they return home, particularly if they have a child. Prostitution becomes a ready way of making ends meet.

Street children: They do not invariably drift into prostitution. The large majority of children who live and work on the streets make ends meet without selling their bodies.

It is those street children with the least contact with their families who tend to get lured into prostitution. Often this is because, if they are girls, the arrival of a step-father in the family has led to sexual abuse and this, in turn, has encouraged the girls to run away. In a sample of 1000 children, mainly street children, surveyed in the Philippines, 70% had experienced sexual abuse. Nevertheless, only about 1% of the street children in the Philippines are involved in prostitution.

This is my approach to what seems an overwhelming problem. Don't aggregate it and despair. Rather, break it down into its constituent parts, isolate the worst influences and concentrate resources on them.

The Stockholm Congress obviously pumped a lot of adrenalin into the lethargic veins of governments far and wide. But powerful jolt though it was, it was inevitable that over time the effect was dissipated. Much is in the works, I am told by Lisbet Palme, the Congress' chairman and widow of Olof Palme, the slain prime minister of Sweden. It is, but the pressure needs to be piled on and the focus pulled tighter. If resources were concentrated on these three groups for 5 years we might get some measurable results.


February 19, 1997, STOCKHOLM

Copyright © 1997 By JONATHAN POWER

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