Paedophiles, Cheb sex capital of Europe
The sexual slave traffic in children
Sunday, October 8, 2006
It was dusk when the BMWs and Mercedes once more began to enter Cheb onChristmas Eve, 2004. By midnight, the expensive cars cruised its streets. The town is on the Czech-German border, a crossing point on the highway that leadsto Prague from Bavaria and Saxony.
Cheb is a mecca for German paedophiles who come to this drab town, with itsugly Stalinist-era apartment blocks and poorly-lit back streets for onepurpose.
Every night, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cheb has maintained itsreputation as the child sex capital of Europe. These include what are known as"the specials": children so small, so vulnerable, so fragile, that they cannotsolicit for themselves. They are offered to the drivers of those cars by their"keepers". This is the shame of Czechoslovakia, a country that now prides itselfon having a future in the European Community.
For the equivalent of US $50 a paedophile can take his pick of children oftenbarely out of their diapers.
They are the ultimate degradation for a town of 38,000 people. With over 100brothels, no one knows exactly how many young prostitutes work in them or on thestreets of Cheb.
On New Year's Day, 2004, Europe's newspapers reported the latest child-sexscandal. A former Portuguese cabinet minister tipped to lead his socialistparty, Paulo Pedroso, and a former ambassador to South Africa, Jorge Ritto,along with eight others, including a doctor and two television presenters, wereall charged with sexually abusing minors.
Outside Portugal most newspapers gave little space to the revelations. Theyhave become all too commonplace.
The allegedly abused children of Portugal represent a fraction of a globalindustry. Its annual revenues were estimated in 2003 to exceed half a trilliondollars globally. This is twice the value of all United States currencycurrently in circulation at any given time, more than the annual gross nationalproducts of many countries.
To understand the sheer size of profits accruing from such terrible misery,consider this: a million dollars in gold would weigh as much as a Japanese Sumowrestler. A half trillion dollars would come close to exceeding the entirepopulation weight of a medium sized Australian city.
The profits come from child sexual trafficking in all its forms: whiteslavery, sex rings, pornography, the sex tourism industry, lap dancing, bogusadoption schemes and procuring the victims -- the untold millions of childrenglobally entrapped in the sex trade industry who are forced to allow theirbodies to be used in exchange for food, money, shelter, alcohol and drugs.
Children are bought, sold, traded and misused in underground child sexmarkets daily. Every state in the United States, and every other nation,contributes in some fashion to the steady flow of children, the customers andexploiters.
It is estimated that the profits from this vast evil empire, when properlyinvested, would draw an interest exceeding US $2 million an hour. The sexualtrafficking in children is not so much an industry but a global empire.
Sovereign and expansionist, it is frequently torn by internal struggle --fights to the death between the Chinese Triads and the Russian Mafia, betweenthe multi-gangs of the Balkans, are commonplace. But the empire presents asecret front to the world. It is from there it plunders our children, snatchesthem, never to be seen again.
The predators who control the sexual trafficking in children are wellorganized. They have thugs who snatch and break the resistance of children;banks who account the empire's profits without asking questions; ships thatconvey the hapless children from one continent to another and private planes that transport them to clients around theworld.
Yet there is little or no cohesive and sustained war against this terribleevil. The United States and Britain try to stamp on the trafficking within itsown borders. But as yet there is no universal challenge to the ever-growingsexual trafficking in children.
The shabby streets of Cheb are but one staging post in a necklace of shamethat encircles the globe.
To the east of Cheb, a battered Volvo crossed into northern Bosnia. Hiddenunder filthy blankets were four teenage girls. One, a blonde called Maria, hadjust celebrated her thirteenth birthday.
To prepare for the long and uncomfortable journey, the girls had each beengiven an injection by a doctor. They were told it was to alleviate travelsickness. In reality it was a cocktail of drugs to keep them drowsy and unableto try and escape. This is standard procedure for the men operating this segmentof the network in sexual trafficking that criss-crosses the Balkans.
The doctor is a man known by his first name only, Goran, in the girl'shometown of Chisinau, the capital of Europe's poorest country, Moldova. It hassome of the prettiest children in central Europe. This has made it a magnet forthe traffickers.
They moved in soon after the collapse of the Communist system in the country.Since then there is a widely accepted estimate that some 6,000 girls have beentrafficked out of Moldova. No one knows how many of them received their druginjections from Dr Goran.
The girls in the Volvo had answered advertisements in a Chisinau newspaper.The ads promised them work in Paris, London and Dublin -- and even in the UnitedStates. The posts on offer included maids, nannies, house-keeping and bar work.The ads stressed no previous experience was required. The salaries were farbeyond those available in Moldova.
A Moldavian recruiter told the girls their journey would involve them firstbeing secretly driven over the border into Bosnia. There, they would receivepassports, for which they had already paid him US $100 -- money borrowed fromtheir families and friends. Then they would go West to earn undreamed of money.So they had been promised.
The break-up of the former Yugoslavia, followed by a vicious war in theregion and the establishment of new states under the 1995 Dayton peace accord,had left many Balkan countries with virtually no legislation or border controlsto deal with the sexual traffic in young women and children.
By the time Maria and her three young friends had been tricked into makingthe journey in the Volvo, the profits from sexual trafficking in the Balkanswere matching those of the drug trade -- and the penalties for smuggling humanswere minimal.
The border guards into Bosnia waved the Volvo through. The car was a familiarsight to them. Each time it crossed, the guards received US $200 for allowingits unhampered passage.
Five hours later the Volvo reached its final destination. "Arizona Market" ison the outskirts of Kosovo. The town resembles the old Wild West rather thanCentral Europe in the Third Millennium. It is also the UN headquarters inBosnia.
An area interlaced with muddy tracks lead to establishments with names like Café Marlboro, Café Don, and The Golden Heart. Fronted byheaps of refuse, used condoms and empty liquor bottles, they are brothels.Between them stand wooden huts selling cheap denim clothes, alcohol, perfume,and guns.
Inside the sleazy bars, the scene seldom changes: dimmed red lights, loud music, cheap drinks -- and semi-naked girls.Usually they are draped over the men known as "the internationalists". These arethe soldiers of the United Nations multi-national peace keeping force. In 2003,it consisted of 45,000 soldiers drawn from 39 countries. In addition, there weresome 7,000 UN staff as well as members of over 200 Western aid agencies.
Many of the girls appear to be drugged -- and not only from the ready supplyof cocaine and heroin on open sale.
An American aid agency worker said: "Lookit, the bar owners who bought thesegirls like to keep them nice and quiet. So they buy drugs from some of the UNmedics to do so. When a girl has finished her shift, she is taken to her room bya bar man and given a shot. When she wakes up she is ready for her nextshift".
This is Arizona Market. Officially established by the peacekeeping forces tofoster trade between Serbs, Croats and Muslims, today its five square miles isthe epicenter of Bosnia's booming sex-slaves trade.
This was the destination of the four young girls. They would work here asprostitutes -- and maybe die -- in this forsaken place.
Almost 2,000 miles to the south of Bosnia, in the tropical heat of WestAfrica, a group of girls, each no more than thirteen years old, made their wayto a small square in the suburbs of Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast.They were escorted by hard-faced young men, the gold in their teeth glinting inthe searing sunlight.
Dressed in their Sunday best -- colourful print cotton dresses -- with hairwashed and combed, the girls were directed to sit on wooden benches in thecentre of the square.
Each girl was for sale as a slave. Their prices ranged from US $5 -- the costof a coffee in what passes for the city's finest hotel -- to the most expensivechild, an eleven year old, costing US $15.
The place is known, locally, as Le Marche de Jeunes Filles -- theMarket of Young Girls.
Buyers, men carrying fly-whisks, and sharp-eyed women, strolled up and downalong the benches, feeling one girl's arm, looking at another's teeth. One wasasked to stand and twirl. Another to bend.
Around the edges of the square stood the traders. The moment a prospectivebuyer stopped, a trader was there to emphasise a girl's good points.
"She is young and disease free. She is strong and will obey your everycommand. She will do whatever you want..." he would intone.
No one knows today how many sexual slaves there are in the world. TheInternational Organisation for Migration estimated in December, 2003, that fromEastern Europe alone there could be half a million.
Anti-Slavery International believes the global figure may run to "tens ofmillions". The one certainty, adds the world's oldest human rights organisation,is that there are more sexual slaves than ever before.
The United States State Department announced in June, 2003, that fifteencountries were now deeply involved in trafficking humans. They included Greeceand Italy, both members of the European Community. The State Departmentestimated that through the fifteen countries almost one million adults andchildren brought and sold annually into the sex slave market. Secretary of StateColin Powell rightly called it a blight on humanity.
There is growing evidence that many of those slaves are traded over theinternet; pimps, often catering for extreme sexual demands ranging fromunprotected sex to torture, can log on to women and children best suited totheir "markets".
In Britain, Scotland Yard believes that over 5,000 girls fromformer-Communist countries were smuggled into the country in 2003. Each earnedtheir pimps an estimated over US $2,000 a day.
Bill Hughes, Director General of Britain's National Crime Squad, said: "Agrowing number of girls are barely into their teens. Although the number issmall compared to such countries as Greece and Italy, it has had a startlingimpact on London's indigenous vice trade.
"British teenagers have been moved out by their pimps into the city suburbsas their rates are undercut by sex slaves imported from the Balkans intoLondon's traditional Soho red light district.
"They have come from Romania, the Ukraine and Moldova. The great majorityhave escaped from dirt-poor villages, with no modern form of communications --some villages do not even have a single telephone let alone a policeman.
"That makes it easier for a young girl to be lured away or kidnapped fromtheir homes -- and never to be traced again", added Hughes.
The former Soviet Republics are the nexus of the traffic. Serbia andYugoslavia are key staging posts along this road of unspeakable misery. It is inthose countries that the majority of girls are housed, waiting for pimps toconduct an initial inspection. The girls -- and some boys -- are then taken byroad to one of the regular "flesh markets".
In 2003, those sales took place in the many apartment block complexes on theoutskirts of Belgrade. The girls are handled like livestock and, once one hasbeen bought by a pimp -- prices can be up to US $1,500 for a teenager, doublethat for a pre-teen -- the victim will usually be beaten, drugged and forced tohave sex with scores of men a week. If she tries to escape, she can be subjectedto further horrendous sexual abuse -- and warned that if she tries again toescape, her family back home will be killed.
The Belgrade apartments are owned by Semion Yokovich Mogilevich. He is aspecialist in every type of major crime. A document by MI5, Britain's internalsecurity service, describes this Ukranian as "one of the most dangerouscriminals on earth".
Mogilevich is wanted in the United States for a multitude of crimes includingbank frauds, money laundering and other currency offences. He is protected byhis own private army -- and, according to CIA sources, he has a liking for younggirls. Documents in the agency possession show he is a regular visitor to theapartments to pick out a girl.
One CIA document identifies Mogilevich as the head of the Rising Sun, one ofMoscow's major criminal families.
"His business is global prostitution, drug running and traffic in humans. Heruns a dark and evil empire. A number of people who have crossed his path havebeen disposed of. He has his own team of killers never further away than a phonecall", said former British intelligence officer Colin Wallace.
Unable to travel to the West for fear of immediate arrest, Mogilevich movesbetween Moscow and Belgrade with his bodyguards and his latest choice ofgirl.
The office for the UN High Commission for Human Rights has identified othercriminal gangs from Macedonia and Serbia as being involved in sex trafficking.But along with Mogilevich, it is the criminal warlords of Albania who nowdominate it.
A report prepared by the Commission states:
"Girls who've shown signs of disobedience have had their feet cemented intowashbasins before being dumped in the Aegean Sea. Others have been horrificallytortured. The Albanian gangs have a seemingly endless supply of women, and theirpower extends way beyond their homeland to the underworlds of Italy and parts of New York. The victims do not officially exist and arepowerless to resist."
Most Albanian gangsters are men in their twenties from the backward north ofthe country. Rather than being based around individual gangland bosses, they areorganized in clans bound by an ancient code of honour called kanun. Someof the profits are returned to their homelands.
In 2002, UN administration in Kosovo and Bosnia enacted new laws to prohibitthe traffic. But there have been few prosecutions, and such as have occurredhave been tainted by charges of corruption. UN teams set up to rescue the girlshave often found that when they organise a raid, the brothel-keepers have beentipped off.
A UN report into trafficking claims that some Western officials areundermining attempts to clean up the trade by becoming cronies of Balkan pimps.The same is true of some of the international and local police. In one case,cited by the report, Bulgarian border police took money from girls to securetheir safe passage back to Bulgaria, only to hand them back to the traffickersin exchange for yet more money.
The fate of those four young girls who were smuggled over the border intoBosnia to work in Arizona Market was to be hustled from the Volvo into a largewooden building. Standing around its walls were the brothel keepers of ArizonaMarket. Maria and her companions were ordered to undress. When Maria refused,her dress was ripped from her. Naked, she and the other girls were forced tostand on wooden crates. The brothel keepers physically inspected the women.
Then the bidding began. In minutes Maria had been sold to a brothel keeperfor US $1,500. The other girls fetched prices ranging from US $350 to US $1,200.
For US $20 a client could spend thirty minutes with Maria. For US $2.50 hecould buy a bottle of beer while he satisfied himself.
Maria would soon discover that there was no escape from a life where she isexpected to have unprotected sex. She is owned body and soul by the man whobought her. All she receives are three meals a day, a bed to sleep on and theskimpy clothes her owner insists she must wear to attract clients.
A UN peacekeeper in Kosovo, who asked not to be named, told me: "Often thegirls are sold on by other brothel keepers. They are traded like cattle and areroutinely beaten and drugged. If a girl tries to escape, she is raped ortortured -- or told that her mother back home will be killed."
Milan Sitilovic, the Bosnian police chief with responsibility for ArizonaMarket says: "How can we stop it? Prostitution is the oldest profession in theworld".
Frederick Larson who headed the office of the International Organisation forMigration (IOM) in Sarajevo identified the problem, "the girls are terrified oftestifying against their owners. Those who dare to do so are simplymurdered".
In 2001, the naked bodies of several girls were found in a river near ArizonaMarket. They bore the hallmarks of Russian mafia-style killings; hands had beentied behind their backs and their feet set in concrete. Their breasts had beenslashed off.
Arizona Market is situated close to the Bosnian headquarters of the USpeacekeeping force. During 2002, six Russian soldiers, members of K-For,gang-raped two girls in the Arizona Market. As they were "owned" by the clubowner, the soldiers paid him a small sum in compensation. No other charges werebrought against the rapists.
Those who survive such inhumane treatment are often sold on to theinternational slave market.
Paul Holmes, of London's Metropolitan Police Vice Squad, has estimated that80% of all women working in the brothels of Britain's capital are from theBalkans. His own investigations concluded that the traffic in women had madetheir owners at least US $75 million since the start of the ThirdMillennium.
His facts and figures can be repeated through the Western world. In Paris,Dublin, Rome, New York, Montreal and Los Angeles, police report the same story:when rescued from sexual bondage, the women are too terrified to testify againstthose who traffic in them.
As of now the penalties against trading in preteen sex slaves is smallcompared to those handed out against drug runners or arms dealers. Indeed, inBosnia, the offence is not even on the statute book.
Pino Arlacchi, executive director of the United Nations Office of DrugControl and Crime Prevention said: "the trafficking in people is now the fastestgrowing transnational criminal activity".
Frederick Larson explained that, apart from his organisation, there is almostnothing to protect sex slaves in Bosnia.
The girls are regarded as illegal immigrants, and are treated as such, ratherthan the victims of gross human rights violations. All NATO and UN officials whofrequent Arizona Market are entitled to immunity from Bosnian prosecution --although not from legal consequences when they return home.
However, the possibility of any conviction in a US or UK court isnon-existent, given that no abused girl is ever likely to be able to giveevidence.
Recently an international police team carried out a raid on three bars inArizona Market. They rescued thirty-four girls, three of whom were aged justfourteen. The raids were carried out without the assistance of the local police.
Afterwards, team members faced disciplinary charges for "exceeding theirauthority". The charges were not pursued; the officers have quietly leftBosnia.
The IOM has set up safe houses in Sarajevo to protect girls, some as young aseleven, who have escaped from brothels.
"The best we can do is to offer them support and repatriation", saidLarson.
But the reality again is that a girl who does go home to a country likeMoldova is often cast-out by her family who suspect what happened to her inBosnia. All too often, she ends up prostituting herself on the streets of thecountry's capital, Chisnau.
In Bosnia, the international peace-keeping force has failed to control, letalone eradicate, the transport of sexual slaves.
Jaque Grinberg, the UN missions head of civil affairs -- a caring andcommitted official -- said there was "an urgent need for an effective borderforce". The office of the High Representative in Bosnia ordered its creation.But there was no money to bring it to reality.
The trafficking business started with the arrival of UN peacekeepers in 1993.Until then Bosnia had no "sex industry". The mission of the peacekeepers was tobring democracy. But too many of their members saw an easy way to make money aswell as satisfy their own sexual desires.
"After the peacekeepers arrived, criminal gangs who had smuggled guns duringthe war began to traffic in women and girls. There was more profit and lessrisk. And so it goes on", said a member of the international police force, DonThomas.
"The evils of what is going on are obvious. But the problem is that thevictims are horribly exploited, many of them also claim they are not in Bosniainvoluntarily. That is the rub. How can you convince some kid who is soterrified that she will not talk? If she opens her mouth she is dead meat",added Thomas.
The worst offenders are the 3,000 Russian peace-keepers. Some girls havedescribed how friends were taken into the Russian camps and never seenagain.
Unlike Bosnia, where the UN peacekeepers arrived in a blaze of publicity, noone knows exactly when "the Germans" started to arrive in their big cars for sexwith the children of Cheb.
The men who drive into the cheerless town know they no longer have to fly toThailand to have sex with a child.
Many of the child prostitutes come from Cheb's large Roman refugeepopulation. Their knowledge of German is confined to the sexual words of theirtrade.
By night, they haunt the park adjoining the town's Evropska Street or standin darkened doorways in the alleys.
New byelaws have forbidden street prostitution in the centre of Cheb; videocameras have been installed to monitor the area.
Catherin Schauer, a nurse who works for Karo, a child-rescue projectsupported by the German Red Cross and the European Commission, said the policeare largely indifferent to what goes on.
"Those who work as prostitutes are usually homeless and turned on to drugs.They start by sniffing glue and then move on to a substance known as ‚Äòpiko", acheap amphetamine which suppresses feelings of cold and hunger", saidSchauer.
Some of the children have been born in Cheb after their families fled fromeastern Europe in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. At an agewhen their childhood is beginning to expand, they are forced intoprostitution.
One girl, her face smeared with make-up who admitted she was thirteen, said"the Germans like us to wear as little as possible. I only wear a short skirtand a t-shirt and my sandals".
She added that in "a good night" she had four or five clients. "They pay meanything from US $20 to US $30 dollars. It's good money for a few hours of work.I always make them use a condom. But some of the younger girls allow unprotectedsex. Because they are not menstruating, they believe they won't becomepregnant".
Catherine Schauer said that a growing number of these under-age girls haddeveloped HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
She and her colleagues distribute condoms to the children. The rescue centrehas a drop-in facility where the children can go for treatment.
"We are a little sensitive about all this. There would not be a problem butfor the Germans. We know that the sex tourists are 99 percent from Bavaria andSaxony", said Petr Jaks, Cheb's deputy mayor.
He did admit there had been "a problem to get our police motivated, but wehope this will change soon".
A senior police officer reluctantly agreed to talk on the basis of having hisidentity concealed.
"My colleagues and I have better things to do than check on every kid whohangs around the streets. As far as we are concerned, they are just out for anight of fun. Look at the way they dress: good quality jeans, Adidas shoes.Sure, they may take a little dope. But so do the kids in Munich."
What about all the Germans who drive into the town every night? The officershrugged. "They spend good money in our bars. If they pick up a girl, so what.It happens everywhere."
Even small children? He smiled indifferently. "How can you tell if a girl isten, thirteen or fifteen? These Romanian kids grow up quickly. Anyway, why pickon Cheb? Prostitution is all along the border."
That is true. At every crossing, the child whores are there, alongside thetraders selling cheap cigarettes and Becherovka, the Czech nationaldrink.
Catherin Schauer and her small team of dedicated social workers note down thelicense plate numbers of the German cars entering the town, then send them tothe nearest German city of Regensburg.
There is a German law, passed in 1993, under which the Federal Republic canprosecute men who have sex with minors abroad. If found guilty, a culprit can besentenced up to ten years in jail.
But, as in Bosnia, the reality is very different. Josef Heisl, a policeofficer with the Regensburg force said "when we get the license plates fromCheb, we do question the car drivers. The men just say they were looking fordirections. To make a successful prosecution, we have to catch a man in the actof having sex with a minor -- or get a child to file a complaint. That is purelywishful thinking".
Just as in Cheb, the turnover of girls is high at Le Marche de JeunesFilles -- the baked earth market place in Abidjan, the capital of the IvoryCoast.
The girls come from the country's remote rural areas, lured away from theirvillages by promise of a better life in the city. Family and friends sew theirnew clothes and arrange their hair before they leave home. But once they arrivein Abidjan, they find there is no work; instead they are sold-off like cattle inthat market place.
Some, the lucky ones, are sent to toil in up-country cocoa plantations.Others are shipped off to Sudan, where slave traders shackle them for the longjourney to the Middle East to restock the region's brothels.
Still others end up in a truck stop called Salgaa on the main Kenya-Ugandahighway. It is the biggest whorehouse in central Africa. In 2003, it had 24 barsand 500 prostitutes -- an estimated half of them under age.
In a regional economy that is close to collapse elsewhere, Salgaa is booming.It is a cut-price version of Arizona Market. In Salgaa a child can be procuredfor one US dollar. In Salgaa the life expectancy of a prostitute is put inmonths rather than years. Their clients are the thousands of truck drivers whotravel every week up and down the highway.
The girls work out of seedy bars with names like the Good Times Hotel and New Paradise.
AIDS is a killer by many names here: "mikingo" meaning "slowpuncture"; and "kauzi" meaning "slim as a thread", an apt description todescribe the body wasting process of the disease.
Sharin Cmemtai, who admitted to being "only fifteen", said that her "worstclients are the Arabs. They can be very violent. I try to charge them more. Butit is impossible for me to keep the extra money. He always takes it straightaway after sex".
"He" was her pimp, a burly Kenyan who is reputed to have a stable of fiftyyoung girls, a number of them in their pre-teens, working in Salgaa.
His girls live in a small compound. It has one water tap, two showers andthree stinking pit latrines. Most weeks a girl is diagnosed as in the finalstages of AIDS. Overnight she will be taken from the compound by the pimp. Thereis a widespread fear she is dumped in the bush to be devoured by the jackals orother wild animals.
Within hours a new girl will arrive as a replacement.
She, too, can expect to be dead within a year. To survive longer in Salgaa isa miracle.
Only none of the girls who work there believe in such divineintervention.
The global traffic in children for commercial sexual exploitation involvestorture and their premeditated rape and mutilation. If and when the authoritiesdecide to take action against the child sex trade, it achieves very little.
This terrible human abuse, the prerogative of no one race or colour,continues to occur under all religions, and where there is no religion. Thesexual traffic in children is the product of greed and lust which feeds offabject poverty.
There is no solution in sight until that poverty is addressed -- and thetraffickers sentenced to long terms. By a collective indifference and silence,the betrayal of children will persist.
Gordon Thomas' work includes the five-times nominated Academy Award winner"Voyage Of The Damned"; "Enola Gay", winner of the Emmy Best Foreign Film prize;"A Bit Of An Experience", winner of the Monte Carlo Film Festival Critics andJury's prizes. His "Underpass" received the Best Original Screenplay submissionat the 1999 Cannes Festival.
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