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YOUTH-SEX TRADE FLOURISHES IN POST-COMMUNIST EASTERN EUROPE
Scripps Howard News Service

By PAUL KNOX

Toronto Globe and Mail


STOCKHOLM - Some sleep in the sewers, some in their sugar daddies'
beds. Some travel thousands of miles to make a living selling their
bodies.

They're the child and teen-aged prostitutes of Eastern Europe,
where the youth-sex trade is flourishing in the turmoil of the
post-Communist era.

Some of the most harrowing stories told at a global conference on
commercial child sex here come from Romania, where girls as young as
nine have been found working as street or train-station prostitutes.

"For them, prostitution is very normal," Gabriela Alexandrescu of
Romania's Save the Children agency said in an interview. "They shock
you sometimes with the way they speak."

But everywhere in the region the market for young prostitutes is
thriving. At checkpoints along Germany's eastern border, teenaged
girls from Poland, Russia and Ukraine hop into cabs with long-distance
truckers. Hard-core pornography, some depicting children, is
circulated widely from the Baltic republics to Bulgaria.

In most countries, police and governments, taking their cue from
citizens, are too preoccupied with other violent crimes and economic
problems to fight the trend.

"Resources are concentrated on those crimes which really worry the
public," said Wolfgang Rau, a criminologist at the Council of Europe
in Strasbourg, France, which advises European governments on policy.

Students of the child-sex trade in Eastern Europe date its growth
to the collapse of communism half a decade ago. Not only have sexual
taboos been smashed, but so have welfare systems that gave inadequate
but dependable support to families and supported institutions that
gave shelter, if little else, to orphans and children from broken
homes.

"Large groups of children, besides suffering from poverty, are to
a much greater degree left without adult guidance and care," says a
report on the child-sex trade in Eastern Europe by two Swedish
researchers, Helena Karlen and Christina Hagner.

Romania has been hit harder than many of its neighbors because it
had more unwanted children in the first place, Alexandrescu said.
Under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, abortion was illegal, contraceptives
unavailable and sex education non-existent.

Working with homeless children in Bucharest for the past five
years, Alexandrescu's group has found bands of youngsters roaming the
streets or living in the Bucharest north train station, a notorious
pickup point for men seeking underage sex.

There are 1,500 to 2,000 street children in Bucharest. In the
summer they sleep outdoors, Alexandrescu said. In the winter they
descend into the sewer system, or find buildings that are abandoned or
under construction.

In some cases, she said, families tell their children to leave -
either because they never wanted them or because they consider their
chances of survival better on the street.

A recent Save the Children study of 32 children between 11 and 18
found three-quarters of the girls had been sexually abused by their
fathers, stepfathers or family friends. Most worked as prostitutes and
suffered from venereal disease, but were routinely rejected by
hospitals for treatment because they had no money and no fixed
address, Alexandrescu said.

There are signs that foreign men are increasingly traveling to
Eastern Europe for cheap underage sex, says the report by
investigators Karlen and Hagner. It was prepared for the activist
group End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism and distributed at the
World Congress Against Sexual Exploitation of Children here.

But at railway stations, which are centers of the child-sex trade,
most customers are from the region itself, the report says -
"soldiers, newly released prisoners, poor people on their way through
large towns or other homeless people.

"The children receive a little food, alcohol, chocolate,
cigarettes or a little cash," the report continues, quoting
informants at stations in Russia and Romania. "The sexual act is
performed in some corner of the station area, in a car outside or the
like."

In an interview, Hagner said half the estimated 2,000 boy
prostitutes in Berlin under the age of 18 are Romanian. Girls from
Romania work as prostitutes in Cyprus, Turkey and the Middle East, she
said. Older boys travel on their own by train to Berlin to seek sex
work, while the younger ones are taken there by pimps.

Although Eastern European governments have been slow to deal with
the problem, Alexandrescu's group scored a victory recently when the
Romanian government agreed to pay for 15 workers to maintain contact
with street children and run a community centre with medical services
for them. The paid staff will be trained by Save the Children's
volunteers.

There are hardly any trained social workers in Romania because
Ceausescu shut down the college of social work in 1977.

"We were a happy nation," Alexandrescu said sarcastically. "We
didn't need social services. Didn't have problems."

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