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South Asia: Child sex trade booming in Internet age

Publish Date: 30 Sep 2004

Source: Agence France-Presse English Wire

South Asia child sex trade booming in Internet age/ UNICEF

COLOMBO, Sept 30 (AFP) - At least half a million South Asian boys and girls are working as prostitutes despite government efforts to curb a child sex trade fuelled by Internet pornography, a UN agency said Thursday.

The United Nations children's fund UNICEF, meeting in Colombo with official and non-governmental child welfare organisations from the seven South Asian nations, said the increase in Internet sites with pictures of children from the region spotlighted the scale of the tragedy.

The sexual exploitation of children was growing at an alarming rate with at least a quarter of the world's two million sexually exploited children living in South Asia.

"The spread of technology, particularly computerisation and the Internet, accentuated the child pornography problem due to the exponential growth of computer-linked child pornography," said UNICEF regional spokesman Martin Dawes.

He noted that about half a million Bangladeshi women and children were believed to have been deployed as prostitutes in India while about 200,000 had come from Nepal.

Dawes explained that the two-day meeting wrapping up Thursday reviewed progress since the "Yokohama Global Commitment 2001" when world leaders meeting in Japan pledged to tackle the problem of sexual exploitation and child abuse.

"There is progress in the past two and a half years, but the meeting here is going to call for action plans by every country and the establishment of a better data base," Dawes said.

He said they were also calling for better enforcement at borders to prevent the trafficking in women and children and also appealing to South Asian men not to have sex with children.

"The market for the child sex trade in South Asia is South Asian men," Dawes said. "We think it is fair to ask them not to have sex with children."

He said there were problems of foreign paedophiles entering countries like Sri Lanka to have sex with local boys, but the locals themselves abusing their own children was also a big problem.

It was not easy for law enforcement agencies to crack down on trafficking because criminals changed their mode of operation quickly and were able to move people rapidly from place to place, Dawes said.

At least three countries in the region -- Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal -- have suffered the consequences of armed conflicts in recent years and that hampered attempts to protect children.

Poverty was also a key issue.

"Poverty itself should not be used to justify child sexual exploitation and abuse," according to a paper discussed at the Colombo meeting.

"It is noteworthy that there are many poor communities that protect children well and it is regrettable that there are many rich communities, including those in developed countries, which protect children inadequately."

Intrinsically linked with the poverty issue was the national budget.

"Several parts of the South Asian region have been spending inordinate amounts on armaments and militarisation rather than on human development and child protection," UNICEF noted.

© 2004 Agence France-Presse English Wire