Fighting the Vilest Crime | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 20.12.2001
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Fighting the Vilest Crime

A world congress against commercial sexual exploitation of children is underway in Japan. Germany's experience shows that tough laws alone do not solve the problem.


Laws are sometimes not enough to protect children from predators

There’s no way you would know it, meeting her for the first time.

Sandra appears a quite average 16-year-old girl – mild mannered, a lover of hip-hop music and yard games, a semi-serious gymnasium student mostly willing to do her homework. She often wears a smile.

She lives a mostly normal life in Riga, capital of the former Soviet republic of Latvia.

Her mother drinks a bit much, but Sandra has a home, and when it gets too rough the neighbours – devout Orthodox Christians – invite her in for warm dinner and conversation.

Everything seems fine with her, but there’s something odd about her eyes. Somehow they betray cynicism and experience far beyond her age.

When Sandra stops smiling, you notice it right away. Her bright personality seems to go into recess.

It might be that she is remembering something, or just daydreaming. There is no way to know. Sandra – not her real name – is a former child prostitute.

Two years ago, she was for all intents and purposes a sex slave in Germany, tricked into it by a crime syndicate.

The police don’t know her story – neither the Germans nor the Latvians. There is no official record, but it is true.

Law falls short

Like most sexually exploited children, Sandra has never benefited from the legal protections in Germany, the European Union and her own country. She slipped through the cracks between legal ideals and brutal realities.

Individuals saved her, not the law.

This is her story, as told to Deutsche Welle Online by a social worker who discreetly works with Sandra, rehabilitating her.

Everyone’s identity is protected in this report. The entire point of the girl’s rehabilitation is to provide her a future as psychologically painless as possible. Keeping her past a private secret is crucial.

Sandra is just one of countless, faceless victims of a vast international trade in children. Their plight is rarely acknowledged and, often, only superficially addressed by governments whose good intentions have proven too weak to snuff out this vilest of crimes.

A world congress against commercial sexual exploitation of children is underway in Japan, run by UNICEF and two non-profit groups, ECPAT International and the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

National efforts to contain the crime are struggling, under heavy pressure from criminal organisations that operate across borders, so officials have decided to come together to compare notes. There is much to learn, much to contain. But the congress in Yokohama, running until Thursday, is only the second of its kind.

Participants have been quick to point out both the importance of tougher laws and the fact that some of the world’s toughest laws are failing, in countries like the Philippines.

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