Teenage Romanians prowl for customers in Berlin

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The Independent Online
GROWING numbers of children and teenagers from eastern Europe are being lured into prostitution in the wealthier Western half of the continent, according to police and international child welfare groups, write Adrian Bridge in Berlin and Annika Savill in London.

Four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, East European boys are emerging as the fastest-growing group of male prostitutes in some Western cities. Hundreds are working as 'rentboys' in Germany and Amsterdam, where Romanian youths form the single largest contingent in the male red-light district.

At the same time, cities such as Prague are emerging as new centres of sleaze. 'Sexual tourism' from west to east - organised tours involving the exploitation of loopholes in the laws covering prostitution and under- age sex - has increased dramatically since the collapse of Communism throughout eastern Europe in 1989.

In Germany, a prime target for the organised gangs behind sexual crimes involving the young, investigators estimate that at least 500 east European children and teenagers are working as prostitutes. Social workers suggest the number could be significantly higher.

'For every case that comes to light, there are dozens that do not,' said Helene Sackstein, executive secretary of the anti-prostitution International Abolitionist Federation (IAF) in Geneva. 'The police cannot really monitor it and in eastern Europe itself, the governments do not seem to care enough to do something about it.'

According to German police, some of those involved - usually aged between 13 and 15 but sometimes younger - are forcibly brought to western Europe where they are made to work the streets. Some are forced to take part in pornographic films produced in countries such as Holland and Denmark, where the laws against child pornography are laxer than elsewhere.

Kidnapping is rare. Most come voluntarily. Some are lured to the West with promises of good meals, good clothes and good times - only finding out the reality when it is already too late.

(Photograph omitted)