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World: Conference On Child Abuse Adopts Action Plan

Copenhagen, 29 August 1996 (RFE/RL) - Representatives of more than 120 countries meeting in Stockholm today adopted a common declaration and action plan for the elimination of sexual exploitation of children.

Senior government representatives, many of them foreign and justice ministers, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) drafted the declaration and action plan at the First World Congress to Combat Child Abuse and Prostitution.

The Congress, which ends Saturday, comes as a pedophile scandal unfolds in Belgium. Earlier this week, Belgian police arrested the 10th suspect believed to be involved in a child pornography ring preying on young girls.

The declaration, built on the principles of various international conventions aimed at protecting children's rights, calls on governments to step up efforts to combat sexual exploitation of children.

The action plan proposes the criminalization, by the year 2000, of all sexual activities with under-age children, including pornography, prostitution and sex tourism. It advocates making sex with children a universal crime through the use of Interpol and by bringing perpetrators to justice in or outside the countries where a crime has been committed.

Queen Sylvia of Sweden, who is hosting the Congress, used unusually strong language to call on elected politicians to tighten laws to protect children and to ban child pornography completely.

The United Nations estimates that more than one million children every year are forced into child prostitution or are used in pornography.

Many observers have pointed out that sexual exploitation cannot be stopped with the stroke of a pen. They say tightening and expanding laws against the sexual exploitation of children will not result in real changes unless there is substantial progress in eliminating the poverty which often drives children into prostitution.

But they stress the importance of both the declaration and the action plan as a "public commitment" to eradicate child sexual abuse. Public pressure and recent media attention to the problem will undoubtedly give governments less room to drag their feet when it comes to protecting children.