The United Nations children's agency says child prostitution is rising across the German border in the Czech Republic. Even children under the age of six are sold to German sex tourists.
Czech authorities say the problem of child prostitution is exaggerated
The children wait by supermarkets, restaurants and gas stations along the Czech motorways just across the border from Germany. Pimps, often parents or siblings, hand babies and small children into the cars of waiting sex tourists. The market for sex with children is booming on the Czech-German border, Cathrin Schauer a social worker in the border region said.
"Young children less than six years old are offered to the sex tourists by women, whereas the older ones are usually accompanied by men or male teenagers," Schauer said. "But eight-year-olds come along on their own and do their own negotiations about payment and sexual practices."
Schauer wrote the report for UNICEF on the basis of her observations over the course of several years. It was released on Tuesday in Berlin.
The children come from poor families, Schauer explained. Their mothers are often drug addicts or prostitutes themselves. But the kids don't necessarily come from the border region. Pimps bring them there from throughout Eastern Europe. Some children, including babies, are sold to the foreign customers to serve as prostitutes in western Europe.
The customers come in cars with German number plates, most from nearby Bavaria and Saxony. Some of them drive up in luxury limousines or small vans with darkened windows. They pay the children €5-25 (around $6-30) for sexual favors. And the locals in the nearby towns and villages turn a blind eye.
Prague denounces study
The Czech government, however, has rejected the UNICEF study. "The Czech Republic views child prostitution and child pornography as grievous crimes and intends to take action against it on the basis of a study prepared realistically," Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told the CTK news agency.
"UNICEF's statements do not reflect the situation," he said.
The Czech authorities had no information about child street prostitution, Czech police spokeswomen Blanka Kosinova, told CTK. Nor had the police found any evidence of child prostitution when they carried out the biggest raid in Czech history three weeks ago, she said.
But Schauer said children usually weren't discovered during raids. "They aren't on offer in brothels, but in supermarkets, arcades, train stations and house entrances."
"Europe's biggest brothel"
Prostitution is on the increase in Germany, according to criminal psychologist Adolf Gallwitz. Some 18 percent of German men regularly pay for sex, he said. And child prostitution is also on the rise.
"We have men who have a fixation on children and also exploit them. They come from the social mainstream and are totally inconspicuous," Gallwitz told Deutsche Welle. "But we also have men who turn this into a real family event and bring their wives along."
Gallwitz said the Czech-German border region was "Europe's biggest brothel."
German law allows for criminal offences committed in another country to be punished by German authorities, but crimes like these are difficult to prove. Children's rights organizations have long demanded that foreign children be taken seriously as victims and witnesses and that they aren't treated like criminals.
UNICEF is trying to draw attention to the children's plight with its campaign "Children are not for sale!" It has also urged the German government to become a pioneer in the fight against child prostitution.
"We can no longer stand for German sex tourists asking for children," UNICEF patron Christina Rau, the German president's wife, said in Berlin. "It is a crime."