Organizers urge world conference to step up fight against sex trade in children

Monday, December 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) _ Canadian Cherry Kingsley was only a teen-ager when she entered the sex trade. She remained trapped for eight years, watching many of her friends die from AIDS, violence, drugs or suicide.

On Monday, Kingsley, now 30, stood before a packed hall of delegates from around the world and urged them to put an end to the multibillion-dollar child sex trade.

``What we have to do is get beyond voicing outrage and move toward more practical and meaningful solutions,'' Kingsley said in Yokohama, Japan on the opening day of the Second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. ``There are millions of children who live in utter despair.''

The conference, which runs through Thursday, brings together more than 3,000 delegates from 138 countries, private organizations and law enforcement agencies. They will discuss how to free some 250 million children trapped in smuggling and prostitution rings.

Carol Bellamy, the U.N. Children's Fund chief, said governments bear the biggest responsibility, and she urged nations to pass laws that harshly punish offenders.

``The commercial sexual exploitation and abuse of children is nothing less than a form of terrorism _ one whose wanton destruction of young lives and futures must not be tolerated for another year, another day, another hour,'' she told participants.

Bellamy warned, however, that it won't be an easy fight.

Many factors have fueled the trade, ranging from armed conflicts that destroy families and uproot communities to the Internet, which has given crime syndicates an additional forum to ply their trade, Bellamy said.

Japan's foreign minister and conference chairwoman, Makiko Tanaka, said prostitution leaves children vulnerable to AIDS, mental trauma and discrimination. It also deprives many of them the right to an education.

The scale of the problem is enormous, though no official figures exist. In a report last week, UNICEF said each year more than one million more youngsters, mostly girls, are bought and sold as sexual slaves.

Sweden's Queen Silvia, the honorary president of the inaugural conference in Stockholm, likened the trade in youngsters for sex to crimes against humanity. She said more than 100 child pornography websites are opened every day, and she called for more countries to outlaw them.

UNICEF's Bellamy said at least 50 countries have enacted legislation to combat the commercial enterprise. More nations, however, must join the fight, she said.

Sponsors of the conference include the government of Japan, UNICEF and ECPAT International, a group that campaigns against child sexual exploitation.

Much of the four-day conference will focus on evaluating the progress since the first meeting five years ago in Stockholm, Sweden. There, representatives from 122 countries agreed to create national plans of action and build a data base of offenders and children at risk.