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UN: Children's Fund Announces Major Step Against Child Pornography

United Nations, 24 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF, is praising Romania for ratifying an international agreement on child prostitution, child pornography, and the sale of children. The overnight statement from UNICEF comes after Romania recently became the 10th country to ratify the agreement, thus making the protocol legally binding to signatories as of 18 January 2002.

The treaty is a protocol to the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. UNICEF said the protocol defines the offenses and sets standards for dealing with offenders under domestic law.

UNICEF Director Carol Bellamy said 69 countries have so far signed the protocol. She urged them all to ratify it before the second World Congress Against the Commercial Exploitation of Children, due to be held in Yokohama, Japan, in December.

UNICEF estimates that 1 million children, mainly girls, are forced into the lucrative commercial-sex trade every year. It says children are often lured in with promises of an education or a "good job."

UNICEF says girls appear to be forced into the sex industry at increasingly younger ages, partly as a result of the mistaken belief that younger girls are unlikely to be infected with HIV or AIDS. The agency says it is often difficult for the children to seek help, not just because of their young ages, but because they often have no birth certificates or official documents and are therefore "invisible."

UNICEF says child prostitution, child pornography, and the sale of children occur within countries and across borders, with perpetrators and victims in both industrialized and developing countries.

Once ratified and translated into national law, the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography places responsibility squarely with the adults involved in the activities, criminalizing the violations of children's rights. It also calls for measures toward increased public awareness and international cooperation in efforts to combat them.

The first 10 countries ratifying the treaty are: Andorra, Bangladesh, Cuba, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Panama, Sierra Leone, Norway, Morocco, and Romania. Another 59 countries have signed the protocol but have not yet ratified it.