Children victims of organised porn rings rings

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The Independent Online
GLENDA COOPER

Vulnerable children are falling victim to pornography, prostitution and organised sexual abuse, while agencies are failing to protect them, five leading childcare charities claimed yesterday.

Latest figures quoted in their report Splintered Lives suggest that there are 4,000 paedophiles, 200 cases of organised sexual abuse and more than 5,000 underage girls at present working as prostitutes in Britain.

The report, which is published by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), Barnado's, ChildLine, NCH Action for Children, and the National Council of Voluntary Childcare Organisations, says that we must stop seeing sexual exploitation as a problem for other countries and instead reform British legislation and tighten up law enforcement.

Scotland Yard's paedophile unit at present has information on 4,000 known or suspected paedophiles, many of whom are involved in child pornography and prostitution.

The latest study of police and social services departments and NSPCC teams in England and Wales uncovered 211 cases of organised child sexual abuse over three years involving 1,500 children. The study identified another 200 lone paedophiles who were actively seeking children to abuse.

The catalyst for the report was the discovery of pornography on the Internet three years ago, said Valerie Howarth, director of ChildLine. "The numbers of children calling us who were involved in prostitution or shown pornographic videos and asked to replicate the action were growing."

"When we talk about pornography the debate can be deflected to an esoteric discussion about people's freedom," she said. "We're talking about child protection and children's rights. We are not talking about erotica but abuse of children's lives."

Liz Kelly, author of the report, said that it was tempting to "otherise" the subject of pornography and prostitution: "We want to think it's other children, other men in other places. But we have got to move on."

She said that the charities had been told of a child of eight who was shown pornography by her father, made to imitate the acts and threatened if she told anyone, and a four-year-old who was "given" to a family friend each month for money.

ChildLine also described the cases of "Chrissie", 12, who called the telephone help line reporting that her father made her undress and pose for video tapes which he then sold, and Siobhan, 16, whose mother's boyfriend was forcing her to watch pornographic videos and then perform sexual acts with him.

Many children ended up in prostitution after running away from abuse in families and saw selling their bodies as a "survival strategy", the report says.

It is estimated that there are as many as 5,000 underage girls working as prostitutes in Britain. In a Children's Society report last October it was revealed that between 1989 and 1993 nearly 1,500 convictions were secured against those under 18 for offences relating to prostitution.

In the same period, 1,800 cautions were issued, with the number issued to girls between the ages of 10 and 16 rising by 50 per cent and convictions for this age group increasing by 10 per cent. The problem is concentrated in four areas - London, Greater Manchester, West Midlands and West Yorkshire -which account for 70 per cent of cautions and 75 per cent of convictions.

The problem is not restricted to older teenagers. One 10-year-old girl received a caution, four convictions were secured against 12-year-old girls and two against 14-year-old boys.

The charities are calling for benefits to be restored to 16- and 17-year- olds and for the law to be amended so that no one under age can be cautioned or convicted for involvement in prostitution.

They also want special courts and prosecutors with responsibility for dealing with violent and sexual crimes against women and children.

"Some of our most vulnerable children are suffering terrible and often multiple forms of sexual abuse and exploitation," Jim Harding, director of NSPCC, said. "It is appalling that any of these children fall through the child-safety protection net. We all have a responsibility to look at the ways in which we can improve the protection offered to them."

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