Conference on commercial sexual exploitation of children

The Czech Republic's first ever conference on the commercial sexual exploitation of children brought together experts from the government, police and NGOs. Two days of discussion revealed that although the will to act is finally there, no one clearly understands the size and scope of the problem. By Daniela Lazarova.

It involves child pornography, prostitution and the child-sex trade, a practice which allegedly takes place under the eyes of the police in Czech-German border towns. Cath Moss of the Ecumenical Network for Youth Action feels that one of the first changes that need to be brought about is a change of attitude . She points out that there is no significant difference between underage kids who are kidnapped and forced to prostitute themselves under threat of physical violence, and those who do it willingly for money outside Prague's Central Railway Station.

"I would suggest that no kid prostitutes themselves from free choice. There are usually situations and circumstances that force the child into surviving. In twenty years of work with children in prostitution I have never met a child doing it from free choice."

According to unofficial estimates, several hundred children in the Czech Republic annually become victims of sexual exploitation. Statistics from "street-side" approaches by social workers and police are incomplete and NGOs say that much work is needed to accurately document the problem. According to Cath Moss effective measures cannot be taken unless there's a change of legislation, a change of attitude and more funding for these projects.

"There's a lot of reform that needs to take place and more flexibility is needed on the part of the government, police and social workers to create alternatives for young people in these situations. Sixteen and seventeen year olds don't want to be in diagnostic centres and other possible alternatives such as group homes or peer councelling need to be explored by the government . There needs to be more financial support for NGOs dealing with the problem, for "streetkids" projects, street workers projects and training of social workers. Also, young people are able to tell us what they need -the experts are not always the best authority on this. "