Do Czechs tolerate underage sex?

Michael Jackson, photo: CTK

The sexual abuse trial of Michael Jackson will long be remembered around the world. The King of Pop was cleared of all ten charges of crimes including child molestation, abduction, and false imprisonment. But despite the magnitude of the accusations, in the Czech Republic, the trial was not as closely followed as in other countries and opinions varied on whether or not Michael Jackson was guilty.

How do Czechs actually feel about child abuse and underage sex? The country is viewed as a haven for paedophiles - you may recall the Qatari royal, who was recently sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for having sexual contact with underage girls. Had the state prosecutor not intervened against a Justice Ministry decision, the Qatari prince - who had sexual contact with young girls on a daily basis - would have been sent home, where he would in all likeliness not have been prosecuted.

The Czech Republic also has its own share of prominent people who have taken a special liking to minors. One of the country's best sculptors Pavel Opocensky, for example, is currently serving a six-year prison sentence. The former dissident and Charter 77 signatory was found guilty of paying young girls money for sexual favours and making telephone calls to 12 year olds, trying to lure them into visiting with detailed accounts of his sexual experiences. His own girlfriend - who is 27 years younger than him - even supported him with this practice. Last month, he was granted temporary release to marry her. In what other country would citizens not even raise an eyebrow to this?

And then there is Bohumil Kulinsky, the respected choirmaster of the prestigious Bambini di Praga girls' choir. Mr Kulinsky is currently in custody awaiting trial after dozens of current and former members of the choir have come forward with accusations of sexual abuse.

Jirina Siklova
To discuss how and why we have such cases in the Czech Republic I'm joined by the well-known sociologist Jirina Siklova.

"We have not been prepared for cases of the sexual abuse of children. Although it was happening, it was kept secret. During the past [Communist] regime, nobody spoke about it. Now we judge it very much and I think there is zero tolerance towards the sexual abuse of children. If I look at what people think is the worst crime, it is the sexual abuse of children that is often given as an example. I can share my personal experience too. I was arrested during the communist regime and witnessed that those prisoners who sold their children or abused children were often attacked by the other prisoners."

So, since these things were kept quiet in the country's Communist years, people are only now - sixteen years after the fall of Communism warming up to the idea of it being wrong or rather there being this need to do something about it? Is that why we are now seeing people like Mr Opocensky, Mr Kulinsky, and the Qatari prince taken to court and prosecuted for their sexual contact with minors?

"These young girls very often have a different attitude [to sex] and think that the age of fifteen is relatively high. That is why some of them start their sexual activities before the age of fifteen and it is only when they are informed by their parents that they could accuse and sue people and get some money, then they start doing so."

But I still have the feeling that the ordinary citizen himself does little to speak out against the sexual contact with minors...

"That is because we now have similar examples as in the United States, where people think that someone was taken to court because the child's parents want to make money."

Michael Jackson,  photo: CTK
As it appears was the case in Michael Jackson's trial, where the Arvizo family appeared to have seen Michael Jackson as an easy target...So, here in the Czech Republic, many people still think that the children's parents - and it must be said that in most cases, the girls have come from low-income families, with the exception of the Bambini di Praga choir maybe - are initiating law suits to make money? Is that what you mean? So do you think that the number of underage girls - and boys - having sexual contact with adults is not as high?

"I am working as a social worker, teach at the university, and have helped to found many organisations that support children and I can say that it is not such a big problem here in our country. I think people speak about it more than it actually happens. It may be connected with the problem in the border areas with Germany, where people started talking about paedophiles getting cheap children there."

And it must be said that even the Czech branch of UNICEF has found that, in the border areas with Germany, men are being lured to have sex with young children by their parents but in most cases just so they can be robbed, it doesn't get to the sexual contact...

But one thing that I have noticed - and you said it yourself earlier when you said that young girls are sexually active before the age of fifteen because they feel mature enough - is that Czechs are very comfortable with nudity. They think it's very natural and there's nothing to be ashamed of. You see it in films and even in the sense of humour, in the jokes they tell. Could that be a contributing factor to why Czechs are sometimes 'misunderstood'?

"I think that we sometimes do not understand where Puritanism ends in some of the western countries or in the United States. In our country, for example, it was very normal that children up to five or six years went swimming naked. I have many photographs of myself and my children during our childhood and we were naked. It is only now in the last year when we have been informed that it may be interpreted as child pornography. But we observe it and now I will no longer make these kinds of photographs because I would fear the consequences.

"You may remember the very important book Penguin Island by Anatole France. The female penguins on this island were naked. Then the devil came to the island and gave one of the female penguins attention and she suddenly became sexually attractive. I think we have experienced something similar here."