Street children took drugs to cope with abuse

Heather Mills describes the human toll of exploitation by Westerners of Western 'sex tourism'
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A 14 year-old Filipino boy described how he and his fellow street children took drugs tocope with the sexual abuseforced on them by Western tourists, many of them British.

"We were often taken in groups to dark places, like caves, for American, British and other Western men to use our bodies," he said. "They would ask us to have sex with each other while they watched and sometimes filmed, and then they would demand sex," he said.

Bubchukoy was one of five children - lucky ones rescued from prostitution - who last month met Home Office officials to give first-hand evidence of the children's plight. The children were part of a delegation attempting to persuade the Government to change the law so that Britons can be tried in this country for crimes committed against children abroad - a move that met with only limited success yesterday.

No one knows how many children like Bubchukoy have been forced into prostitution. But the numbers are growing - particularly in the Far East. Crude figures have suggested there are 200,000 in Thailand, 60,000 in the Philippines and 40,000 in Sri Lanka with a growing problem in Cambodia, Vietnam and Burma.

Since the development of Western tourism in Asia over the past 20 years it is believed that up to one million children have been forced by one means or other into sex slavery. And since the arrival and spread of HIV, there is evidence that pimps and paedophiles are preying upon younger children.

Similarly, no one knows how many British paedophiles, heading out to the Far East for sex holidays, are fuelling these problems. But a survey by the Coalition on Child Prostitution and Tourism - which represents five aid and child charities including Christian Aid and Save the Children - found that of the 160 foreigners convicting of sexually abusing Asian children in recent years, one in eight was from the UK. That places the UK fourth in the league of child abusers behind Germany, America and Australia.

But those countries have already joined the growing list of countries which have enacted legislation enabling them to prosecute their own nationals for sexual offences on children abroad. They include Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the US.

The UK government has always been opposed to such laws because of the difficulties of obtaining sufficient evidence from another country and presenting it in court to secure a conviction. But Sweden has just managed exactly that with the conviction of Bengt Bolin, a retired civil servant, for sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy while on holiday in Thailand.

He had been arrested during a police raid in the Thai beach resort of Pattaya but fled back to Sweden while on pounds 2,500 bail. Last month a Swedish court sent him to prison for three months.

In Australia, new legislation provides for the prosecution in that country of anyone accused of sexual offences against a child under 16, whether or not it is an offence in the country concerned. The penalty for sexual intercourse of any kind with a child under 12 is 17 years in jail and from 12 to 15, it is 14 years. Procuring or inducing children carries similar penalties. Offences of indecency carry terms of up to 12 years.

The UK has the jurisdiction to try cases of crimes committed abroad for exceptional offences including murder, treason and torture.

Campaign groups say prosecuting paedophiles would act as a deterrent. Anne Badger, campaign co-ordinator for the coalition, said when Western countries began to take the problem seriously, countries in the Far East responded by prosecuting more paedophiles. She added: "This is a horrifying problem involving so many children that prosecution seems the least we should do."