German castration lobby grows louder

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As the seven-year-old Bavarian girl murdered by a known child molester was buried in her village yesterday, the German parliament was set to rush through draconian laws against sex offenders.

"The great pain renders us speechless and stunned," said Bishop Rudolf Schmid in his requiem Mass in the village of Epfach, where the body of Natalie Astner was discovered on Sunday. In front of the altar, decorated with white carnations, stood a smiling picture of Natalie. Most of the 500 members of the Catholic community attended the service, and most of Germany appeared to be with them in spirit.

The politicians, however, have been anything but speechless. The government of Bavaria is to submit proposals to the Bonn parliament today calling for longer prison terms for child molesters and compulsory chemical castration.

The law would raise the maximum term for rape to 15 years from the current 10, and legalise preventive detention for offenders deemed dangerous to the community.

Some liberals have criticised the conservative Bavarians' knee-jerk reaction, but in the wave of outrage sweeping Germany their voices are drowned out by louder chorus of indignation. Primed by the events in Belgium in recent weeks, the German public is baying for blood.

Natalie's alleged killer, an electrician named Armin Schreiner, 27, is said to have confessed to abducting and killing her, although he denies sexual abuse. Police said that Mr Schreiner, who knew Natalie's father, kidnapped the girl less than 100 yards from her home as she was going to school on Friday morning. He drove her to a country road, stripped her and sexually abused her.

Police said that according to his own version, Natalie begged for mercy, and promised not to reveal her secret to anyone. But he wanted to take no chances. He smashed Natalie's head against a tree and tossed her unconscious body into the river Lech. An hour after her disappearance, she was dead.

Mr Schreiner would still be in jail for the sexual abuse of children had he not been released early last year for good behaviour from a five- and-a-half year sentence. Although the judicial authorities stand by their decision to free him, the laws on parole are certain to be tightened up.

The Bavarian call for castration, however, is facing a tougher ride in the federal assembly. The neutering lobby wants offenders to be injected with the drug Androcur, which counteracts the actions of male hormones produced in the brain. The "cure" is already available on a voluntary basis, with mixed results. "Chemical castration can be a help on an individual basis, but it makes no sense without additional psychotherapy," the psychiatrist Freidmann Pfafflin said. There appear to be not enough psychiatrists in Germany to deal with all the offenders at once.

The biggest problem with chemical castration is that even if it succeeds in dampening a rapist's sex drive, the treatment would not affect his violent urges. Experts point out that, however perverse it may sound, only about 5 per cent of sexual offences are sexually motivated.

Following Natalie's death, Germans are inclined to argue that the other 95 per cent should be locked up for good.