Their latest holiday destination

Tim McGirk tells a horror story from India, the country now favoured by sex tourists

They called him "Father Freddy", although whether he is really a priest remains in dispute. Freddy Peat, 71, is an Anglo-German who acted as a social worker with the Catholic church in the Indian beach resort of Goa.

Father Freddy was recently sentenced to life imprisonment in India for sodomy, procuring children for prostitution and selling obscene photographs of minors being sexually assaulted. He was linked to an "orphanage" where more than 150 boys and girls were sadistically abused and tortured, mostly by foreigners.

The case highlights a change in patterns of paedophile sex tourism, a phenomenon causing increasing concern both in the West and in Asia. India is rapidly replacing Thailand and the Philippines as the most popular paedophile sex destination and the organised abuse of Indian children is soaring.

Stringent new laws, along with the spread of Aids, are discouraging sex tourists away from Thailand and the Philippines. While India has many laws protecting minors, they are rarely enforced.

Activists claim that the number of child prostitutes in India has risen from an estimated 50,000 in 1991 to more than 250,000 today. Many of them were kidnapped from poor families and are locked in brothels in Bombay and Calcutta, while others are lured into the sex trade in Goa, Kovallam beach in Kerala state and Orissa's beach of Puri.

In Britain, campaigners want new laws passed so that paedophiles can be prosecuted for sex crimes committed abroad. Sweden, Germany and Canada have recently brought in similar legislation. Already a Bill has passed the Commons which will penalise organisers of paedophile "sex tours" abroad. But with so many desperate Asian children living in poverty, they will continue to be easy prey for paedophiles, activists say.

The Father Freddy story shows just what horrors this implies. A gaunt and white-bearded Goa resident, Peat was arrested after police raided his flat near Margao and found 2,305 obscene photographs. Sheila Barse, a Bombay child-rights activist, said many are seared in her memory.

The worst, she said, was of a two-and-a-half-year-old girl held by her hands and legs, "like a hammock". Ms Barse explained: "Another partially visible man holds her legs while his huge organ stabs and twists into her. The baby's mouth is stretched in an explosive expression of unbearable pain and shock. Her face is rumpled and you can tell she's screaming. The effect on me of that photo is traumatic enough, but think of what it was like for her - the baby."

Ms Barse and police believe that Peat may have been selling the hard- core photographs through paedophile networks abroad. "Along the beaches in Goa you find an endless stream of sexual prowlers, but Peat was different. He was part of an organised ring," she said.

Interpol is investigating links between Peat's orphanages and several paedophile groups identified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US, such as the Paedophile Information Network Exchange in London, the Paedo Alert Network (Pan) in Holland, the Lewis Carroll Collectors' Guild, the Childhood Sensuality Circle and the North American Man-Boy Lovers' Association.

In raids on Mr Peat's flat, police also found syringes, pain-killers and anti-spasmodic drugs which they believe were injected into the young boys in the attempts to give them erections. Another photograph from Mr Peat's collection shows a six-year-old boy blindfolded and strapped to the wall. Drugs are being pumped into his testes with a rubber tube attached to a needle.

Interpol is seeking two British men, Raymond Varley and AP Rebello, for questioning in connection with the Peat case. Both are thought to have left India. A third Westerner, Owen McBride, said to be either a Briton or a New Zealander, is also being sought.

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