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East: Child Prostitution Increasing

Copenhagen, 15 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Child prostitution in the three Baltic States, Russia and Poland is increasing rapidly, says a new report by the Baltic States Council's Commission on Human Rights.

The report, issued at the Council's headquarters in Copenhagen, draws a clear distinction between the western Baltic region --Scandinavia, Finland and Germany -- and those in the east -- Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Russia. It emphasizes that violations of children's rights and child abuse occur only on what it describes as an "isolated basis" in the West, but are the rule rather than the exception in the East.

The report notes that most eastern Baltic states have subscribed to all the international conventions on human and children's rights. But it says they fail to implement them either because of lack of legislation or due to official incompetence or lack of interest.

The report is the latest in a series of similar studies over the past five years. It is the first, however, to document its conclusions with concrete facts and figures.

According to the report, two out of three prostitutes in Estonia are between 15 and 19 years of age. In Latvia, it says, up to 12 percent of all prostitutes are teenagers -- and one-third of them are under the age of 16 -- working mostly in the notorious Latvian brothels controlled by local or Russian organized crime groups. In Lithuania, the report says, prostitution is concentrated largely around Vilnius' railway station and airport -- and some of the girls there are 11 years old.

In Poland as well, the report says, more and more teenagers are engaged in prostitution. According to Polish sources, in 1995 the number of prostitutes aged between 12 and 14 was about 150 for the whole country. In 1996, it went up to 400 and has continued to grow rapidly in the past two years.

The report says that many of the juvenile prostitutes in Poland work in areas adjacent to the German border. There they live mostly in ramshackle barracks and cater to tourists and truck drivers. According to a Finnish charity quoted in the report, a major problem in Poland is pregnancy in teenage prostitutes. This is compounded by the country's restrictive legislation on abortion. Police sources in Warsaw say that the number of teenage "escorts" has also increased.

In Russia, child and teenage prostitution is proliferating, the report says. In St. Petersburg alone, there are almost 5,000 known young prostitutes, with probably at least as many of which the authorities are unaware of. Some of them are sold by Russian criminal groups for $12,000 per child to brothel rings in southern Europe and the Middle East.

Because of sex tourism and human trafficking, juvenile prostitution can be combated effectively only on an international level, the report concludes. But since national legislation and attitudes vary widely from West to East, effective cooperation on the issue is almost non-existent. The report encourages national authorities to look upon crimes against children as what it calls a serious felony, and to act accordingly. It recommends the introduction of specialized training for police officers to deal with crimes against children.

The Baltic States Council was founded in 1992 and includes all countries bordering on the Baltic Sea plus Norway and Iceland. Ole Espersen, the Council's Commissioner on Human Rights, has been minister of justice in Denmark and has served at the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commission in Strasbourg.