Paedophile tourists face crackdown

Britons who sexually abuse children overseas may soon be unable to evade prosecution, reports Toni Turner
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The Independent Online
MOVES to crack down on British involvement in child sex tourism are expected from the Government this month, following the imprisonment in June of a Swede in his own country, for an offence committed against a boy in Thailand.

A clampdown on British-based tourist agents who organise child sex tours, an extension of the role of British drug liaison officers based in South East Asia to include child sexual abuse, and more cooperation between British and Asian police are possible developments.

The action was indicated last week to campaigners who took four young Filipino men to the Home Office to give officials a first-hand account of the actions of Britons who go abroad to prey on children sexually.

It represents a change of heart on the part of the Government which has hitherto been opposing a private member's bill proposed by Lord Hylton, which would enable the prosecution of British paedophiles for offences against children abroad, even if they have not been convicted in the country where the offence took place. Ministers have believed such legislation would be unworkable in practice. The bill comes before the House of Commons on 14 July.

But the recent conviction by a Swedish court of Bengt Bolin, a retired civil servant, for sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy while on holiday in Thailand, is understood to be leading to a reconsideration. Bolin, 69, was first arrested during a police raid in the Thai beach resort of Pattaya but fled back to Sweden while on pounds 2,500 bail, expecting to escape prosecution as many Western tourists have in the past. However, he was found guilty by a Swedish court on 22 June and sentenced to three months' imprisonment.

The Bolin case was considered a landmark by anti-child prostitution campaigners as it was the first time a European has been convicted under extra territorial legislation of sexually abusing a child abroad.

Home Office officials have now indicated that they will be making fresh proposals to ministers on the issue, involving measures designed to curb the involvement of Britons in the child sex trade.

An assurance of some sort of action was given last week to a delegation of campaigners who visited the Home Office with four Filipino former child prostitutes.

The four young men told officials of the tragic circumstances of hundreds of thousands of children lured into child sexual slavery in the Phillipines to satisfy the requirements of Western tourists, many of them British.

Pressure groups including the Coalition on Child Prostitution and Tourism and Christian Aid now expect a Government statement before the Commons debate.

"We are aware that certain countries are adopting extra territorial legislation, and we are monitoring the position. The Government has much sympathy with Lord Hylton's proposals but we have serious reservations over whether the practical difficulties of bringing succesful prosecutions for sexual offences committed abroad can be overcome."

Lord Hylton's Sexual Offences Amendment Bill received unanimous cross- party support and has already successfully completed its third reading in the Lords. It has been reported that officers from Scotland Yard's new Paedophile and Child Pornography Unit believe extra territorial legislation is vital to fight international paedophile activity.

Detective Inspector Bob McLachlan of Scotland Yard, a member of Interpol's standing working party on offences against minors, fully supports attempts to introduce extra territorial legislation for child sex abuse. "We spend our lives in this department trying to protect children, and when we know of British men committing crimes abroad for which they would be prosecuted in this country, it's not something comfortable to live with," he said.

He rejects claims that such legislation would be too difficult to police and says he would like Britain to consider allowing video evidence of witnesses, similar to legislation in Australia, or satellite links.

Commenting on the Swedish prosecution, head of Christian Aid's South East Asia team, Jack Arthey, says: "The Swedes have shown legislation can work, successfully prosecuting a man who had escaped Thai jurisdiction while leaving the country on bail."

Amihan Abueva, executive secretary of End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT) says: "The success of this case demonstrates that if governments have the political will to enforce it, the law can protect children from sexual exploitation, whether the exploiters are local or foreign."

ECPAT, set up in Bangkok in the early nineties, has already had considerable success in persuading Western countries to introduce similar legislation. Germany, America, Australia, France, Norway and Sweden now all have enacted this type of legislation and Belgium, Japan and New Zealand are preparing to follow suit.

It is estimated that since the development of Western tourism in Asia over the last 20 years up to one million children have been sold, stolen or tricked into childhood sex slavery.

According to ECPAT, of the 160 foreigners convicting of sexually abusing Asian children in recent years, one in every eight abusers was from the UK, making us the fourth in the offender league table after Germany, America and Australia.

Since the other three top offending countries have introduced extra territorial legislation, aid agencies have noted a decline in the number of their nationals openly abusing children in countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Cambodia.

However, last month three Britons were detained in the Philippines for suspected involvement in paedophilia and another was arrested in Cambodia.