Germans have been shocked by a particularly harrowing case of sex abuse that has prompted the government to speed up improvements to the law on child abuse and pedophilia.
A 48-year-old father from the Westerwald region in the western state of Rhineland Palatinate started raping his stepdaughter when she was just 13 years old. He had apparently also been molesting his biological daughter since she was nine years. After more than 20 years, his daughter finally called the police.
Although the authorities questioned why there were so many children in the family, the stepdaughter kept telling them that she had been involved with other men. Since Germany's child protection authorities have no legal power to order DNA tests or obtain warrants to search people's homes, they could go no further.
German law states that children are protected by local authorities who act as 'watchmen', meaning that while they actively look for suspicious cases, they are dependent on tip-offs from neighbors, doctors, job centers and other institutions.
"Often, we have no evidence," a child protection officer, who whished to remain anonymous, told Deutsche Welle.
He says relatives and victims are often unwilling to disclose information, as they are too afraid. "And then, people blame us again, the supposedly incompetent authorities," the officer says.
The most recent case underlines the problem. The 28-year-old stepdaughter who was raped, was so submissive emotionally that she defended the perpetrator, making it virtually impossible for the authorities to intervene.
Stricter legislation and more training
The German government is in the process of introducing stricter legislation for sex offenders. Those who have been in the public eye for sex offenses involving children will, in future, be subject to compulsory police checks. The rule will apply nationwide, not just in some regions, as is the case at present.
The government also wants to boost training for child protection officers.
"If they can interpret tip-offs better and work much more closely together, within the local authorities network, then we have gained an awful lot," says Arthur Kröhnert from the Association of Child Protection Centers, one of 50 private organizations supporting local authorities by giving advice to parents and children and by educating children and teenagers.
National and international measures
The government's national action plan is designed to improve legal protection, boost municipal advice and helplines and services and improve cooperation between the various authorities. The plan serves as an early warning system, aimed at spotting suspicious circumstances.
In 1992, Germany signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which aims to protect children from abuse. It has taken part in every convention on the sexual exploitation of children since.
Author: Wolfgang Dick / ng
Editor: Andreas Illmer