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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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