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World: Child Abuse Conference Ends With Strategy

By Anthony Georgieff and Don Hill

Stockholm, 2 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - A five-day international conference to combat sexual exploitation of children has ended -- and its final products were a declaration and a plan of action.

From Stockholm, the First World Congress to Combat Child Abuse and Prostitution issued a declaration calling on governments around the world to recognize child sex abuse as a class of severe crimes, and to strengthen legislation protecting minors.

The plan of action urges that all forms of sexual exploitation of children be made crimes, and that such exploitation be recognized internationally as universal crimes. If implemented, this would mean that persons charged with such crimes would be liable to be traced by the international police organization, Interpol, and to be prosecuted in any country regardless of nationality or where the offenses were alleged to have been committed. The plan sets the year 2000 as the target date for implementation.

Also, the plan calls for banning child pornography and pedophile literature worldwide, outlawing distribution of pedophile-related information on the Internet, and adopting punitive measures to curtail sex tourism -- that is, international travel for the purpose of finding illicit sex partners. It envisions developing an international data base of persons charged with sexual crimes involving children.

The United Nations Children's Fund, the Swedish government, and social organizations such as ECPAT, End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism sponsored last week's conference. More than 1,300 delegates from 130 countries, including high-ranking government officials, attended.

Sweden's Queen Sylvia lent her name as patron, and delivered such a firm speech that she was criticized in her own country for political meddling inappropriate for a parliamentary monarch.

The conference came by coincidence at a time when international outrage was fresh over news from Belgium of a pedophile ring involving a convicted child rapist, the kidnapping, sexual abuse and death by starvation of two young girls; kidnapping and sexual abuse of two other young girls who were found and freed; and two missing girls who are being sought internationally.

Despite the nearly universal condemnation of this class of crime, conference speakers said, it is widespread. Some cultures accept child sexual exploitation with greater equanimity than do others, they said. They reported that child prostitution is common in impoverished nations, especially in some Asian countries.

Speakers described pedophile organizations which, under the banner of freedom of speech, claim the right to defend pedophile behavior. Such groups also claim that child pornography is protected by the public's right to a free press. Queen Sylvia's speech denounced politicians in Sweden for moving too deliberately in outlawing child pornography.

In addition to free speech and free press issues, speakers identified gray areas such as fair trial vs. vigorous news coverage, appropriate contact between children and adults vs. improper contact, innocent depiction and art vs. pornography, and unsubstantiated allegations vs. official and public condemnation of perpetrators.