A gang organizing juvenile homosexual prostitution broken up in Prague

The Czech police have broken up an international pedophile prostitution gang in Prague. In an operation code-named Spider, 87 people, including the gang's four main ringleaders, were detained last Friday. Alena Skodova reports:

More than 100 detectives forced their way into nine selected clubs, pensions and hotels on Friday. The raids resulted in 87 arrests and the seizure of several computers, four hundred video cassettes containing child pornography, photo albums, catalogues and lists of young prostitutes for clients from abroad. The detainees include thirteen foreign nationals, a 14-year-old boy and 13 underage prostitutes.

I spoke to Laszlo Sumegh of the Projekt Sance Association, which has just completed an annual study on child prostitution in Prague. The study includes the undertaking of HIV and hepatitis tests:

"Thirty youths living in the streets were tested recently, and 40 percent tested positive for hepatitis A and B, which is alarming news," Mr Sumegh said.

But does Project Sance has any closer contacts with child prostitutes?

"Yes, without it there would be no way to help them. We meet twice a week in a club room, we have a 'guest of the month', which this week features a doctor of venerology. We also have an artistic workshop, listen to music and go for walks. We publish a magazine called Butterfly Info, using the word butterfly because none of us likes the word 'prostitute'. We cooperate with the Academy of Creative Arts and with the Rudolfinum Gallery, in a bid to show these youngsters more positive aspects of life."

Mr Sumegh told me that juvenile prostitutes mostly come to the street from broken families, or from children's homes. They usually come from alcoholic families and some 40 percent were themselves sexually abused as children. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, because not all are willing to tell the truth. Project Sance often contacts the young prostitutes' grandparents as many of them are ready to take in their grandchildren and care for them.

"When we contact a young girl or boy - and it's mostly boys - we try not to play the role of a parent, but help him find his way back to where he came from. Very often there are strong emotional problems in their families and sometimes all it takes is a reconciliation with their parents. Also, our meetings might help, but what we really need is our own building where we could carry out all of our activities."

Mr Sumegh said there was a lack of interest from those who have the power to help, but expressed hope for the future, as he says his project has not gone unnoticed by the European Union.