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Hungary: Underage prostitution arrrests

Publish Date: 07 Jul 2005

Source: The Budapest Sun - Volume XIII, Issue 27
By Thomas Escritt

POLICE in Szabolcs-Szatmár county have arrested three men who abducted two girls and forced them into prostitution.

The girls - aged 14 and 15 - were forced into a car in the eastern town of Nyíregyháza on June 20 and held captive in a flat.

A police spokesman said that proceedings were underway against one 22-year old and two 45-year old men for suspected violation of personal freedom. Experts agree that there is no reliable data on the number of minors who are subjected to similar ordeals each year.

According to Anna Betlen, a former Interior Ministry employee who is now an independent expert on the issues surrounding human trafficking, it would require more people, money and time to assess the scale of the problem than the government is currently prepared to spare.

Still, the Nyíregyháza case is certainly just the tip of the iceberg. "You only need to spend a few minutes on the internet to find sex adverts on Hungarian sites with pictures that are clearly of minors," she told The Budapest Sun, adding that in practice all of them have been forced into prostitution.

"If you interview prostitutes, most of them will say they're working voluntarily - but if you look back far enough, they'll end up saying something like 'I was raped when I was 13 and kicked out onto the street'."

Judit Wirth of Women for Women Against Violence (NANE) agrees that there is no data. NANE's helpline has received 40-50 calls relating to minors trapped in sex work.

"We've had calls from minors themselves, and sometimes friends, relatives or family members call telling us about a girl they think has been trapped in a similar way," she told The Sun.

But very few of these cases have happy endings, particularly since police often fail to take such reports seriously enough.

"If the person in question is aged 18 or above, then they often ignore the case, saying that the girl is an adult and can do what she wants."

In principle, cases involving minors are taken more seriously, although this often has little practical effect. "There is a lack of awareness of the problem," she says, mentioning that "in some countries, the police themselves are said to be involved in the crimes," although she is not prepared to make the same charge about police in Hungary.

Betlen sees other reasons, too. "It's a lack of training and knowledge. It takes an outstanding policeman to identify with the victims in such cases." The legislation is also misleading, she says, since its focus on "trafficking in human beings" lays too much emphasis on the cross-border aspects of the trade in women, "even though it's a significant problem inside countries as well."

On Thursday, June 30, the Pest county court convicted eight men (from a group of 17) suspected of organizing the trafficking of girls, some of whom were minors, to Spain for forced prostitution.

The court passed its verdict on the eight saying they had used "lies and physical pressure" to take the girls to Spain between 1998 - 2000. Five of the men were sentenced to 6.5-9.5 years in prison, the remaining three two to three years.

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