Child Sex Trafficking
by Gordon Thomas
It was dusk when the BMWs and Mercedes once more began to enter Cheb on Christmas Eve , 2004.By midnight, the expensive cars cruised its streets. The town is on the Czech-German border, a crossing point on the highway that leads to Prague from Bavaria and Saxony.Cheb is a mecca for German paedophiles who come to this drab town, with its ugly Stalinist-eraapartment blocks and poorly-lit back streets for one purpose.
Every night, since the collapse of the Soviet Union , Cheb has maintained its reputation as the child sex-capital of Europe.
These include what are known as “the specials”: children so small, so vulnerable, so fragile, that they cannot solicit for themselves. They are offered to the drivers of those cars by their “keepers”. This is the shame of Czechoslovakia, a country that now prides itself on having a future in the European Community .
For the equivalent of US $50 a paedophile can take his pick of children often barely out of their diapers.
They are the ultimate degradation for a town of 38,000 people.
With over 100 brothels, no one knows exactly how many young prostitutes work in them or on the streets of Cheb.
On New Year's Day, 2004, Europe's newspapers reported the latest child-sex scandal. A former Portuguese cabinet minister tipped to lead his socialist party, Paulo Pedroso , and a former ambassador to South Africa, Jorge Ritto, along with eight others, including a doctor and two television presenters, were all charged with sexually abusing minors.
Outside Portugal most newspapers gave little space to the revelations. They have become all too commonplace.
The allegedly abused children of Portugal represent a fraction of a global industry.
Its annual revenues were estimated in 2003 to exceed half a trillion dollars globally.
This is twice the value of all United States currency currently in circulation at any given time, more than the annual gross national products of many countries.
To understand the sheer size of profits accruing from such terrible misery, consider this: a million dollars in gold would weigh as much as a Japanese Sumo wrestler.
A half trillion dollars would come close to exceeding the entire population weight of a medium sized Australian city.
The profits come from child sexual trafficking in all its forms:
the sex tourism industry,
bogus adoption schemes
procuring the victims
– the untold millions of children globally entrapped in the sex trade industry are forced to allow their bodies to be used in exchange for food, money, shelter, alcohol and drugs.
Children are bought, sold, traded and misused in underground child sex markets daily. Every state in the United States, and every other nation, contributes in some fashion to the steady flow of children, the customers and exploiters.
It is estimated that the profits from this vast evil empire, when properly invested, would draw an interest exceeding US $2 million an hour. The sexual trafficking in children is not so much an industry but a global empire.
Sovereign and expansionist, it is frequently torn by internal struggle — fights to the death between the Chinese Triads and the Russian Mafia , between the multi-gangs of the Balkans, are commonplace. But the empire presents a secret front to the world. It is from there it plunders our children, snatches them, never to be seen again.
The predators who control the sexual trafficking in children are well organized. They have thugs who snatch and break the resistance of children; banks who account the empire's profits without asking questions; ships that convey the hapless children from one continent to another and private planes that transport them to clients around the world.
Yet there is little or no cohesive and sustained war against this terrible evil. The United States and Britain try to stamp on the trafficking within its own borders. But as yet there is no universal challenge to the ever-growing sexual trafficking in children.
The shabby streets of Cheb are but one staging post in a necklace of shame that encircles the globe.
To the east of Cheb, a battered Volvo crossed into northern Bosnia. Hidden under filthy blankets were four teenage girls. One, a blonde called Maria, had just celebrated her thirteenth birthday.
To prepare for the long and uncomfortable journey, the girls had each been given an injection by a doctor. They were told it was to alleviate travel sickness.
In reality it was a cocktail of drugs to keep them drowsy and unable to try and escape. This is standard procedure for the men operating this segment of the network in sexual trafficking that criss-crosses the Balkans.
The doctor is a man known by his first name only, Goran, in the girl's hometown of Chisinau, the capital of Europe's poorest country, Moldova. It has some of the prettiest children in central Europe. This has made it a magnet for the traffickers.
They moved in soon after the collapse of the Communist system in the country. Since then there is a widely accepted estimate that some 6,000 girls have been trafficked out of Moldova. No one knows how many of them received their drug injections from Dr Goran.
The girls in the Volvo had answered advertisements in a Chisinau newspaper. The ads promised them work in Paris, London and Dublin — and even in the United States. The posts on offer included maids, nannies, house-keeping and bar work.
The ads stressed no previous experience was required. The salaries were far beyond those available in Moldova.
A Moldavian recruiter told the girls their journey would involve them first being secretly driven over the border into Bosnia. There, they would receive passports, for which they had already paidhim US $100 — money borrowed from their families and friends. Then they would go West to earn undreamed of money. So they had been promised.
The break-up of the former Yugoslavia, followed by a vicious war in the region and the establishment of new states under the 1995 Dayton peace accord, had left many Balkan countries with virtually no legislation or border controls to deal with the sexual traffic in young women and children.
By the time Maria and her three young friends had been tricked into making the journey in the Volvo, the profits from sexual trafficking in the Balkans were matching those of the drug trade — and the penalties for smuggling humans were minimal.
The border guards into Bosnia waved the Volvo through. The car was a familiar sight to them. Each time it crossed, the guards received US $200 for allowing its unhampered passage.
Five hours later the Volvo reached its final destination. “Arizona Market” is on the outskirts of Kosovo. The town resembles the old Wild West rather than Central Europe in the Third Millennium. It is also the UN headquarters in Bosnia.
An area interlaced with muddy tracks lead to establishments with names like Café Marlboro, Café Don, and The Golden Heart. Fronted by heaps of refuse, used condoms and empty liquor bottles, they are brothels. Between them stand wooden huts selling cheap denim clothes, alcohol, perfume, and guns.
Inside the sleazy bars, the scene seldom changes: dimmed red lights, loud music, cheap drinks — and semi-naked girls. Usually they are draped over the men known as “the internationalists”.
These are the soldiers of the United Nations multi-national peace keeping force. In 2003, it consisted of 45,000 soldiers drawn from 39 countries. In addition, there were some 7,000 UN staff as well as members of over 200 Western aid agencies.
Many of the girls appear to be drugged — and not only from the ready supply of cocaine and heroin on open sale.
An American aid agency worker said: “Lookit, the bar owners who bought these girls like to keep them nice and quiet. So they buy drugs from some of the UN medics to do so. When a girl has finished her shift, she is taken to her room by a bar man and given a shot. When she wakes up she is ready for her next shift”.
This is Arizona Market.
Officially established by the peacekeeping forces to foster trade between Serbs, Croats and Muslims, today its five square miles is the epicenter of Bosnia's booming sex-slaves trade.
This was the destination of the four young girls. They would work here as prostitutes — and maybe die — in this forsaken place.
Almost 2,000 miles to the south of Bosnia, in the tropical heat of West Africa, a group of girls, each no more than thirteen years old, made their way to a small square in the suburbs of Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast. They were escorted by hard-faced young men, the gold in their teeth glinting in the searing sunlight.
Oprah's girls school in Africa is reportedly involved in another lesbian sex scandal.
Dressed in their Sunday best — colourful print cotton dresses – with hair washed and combed, the girls were directed to sit on wooden benches in the centre of the square.
Each girl was for sale as a slave. Their prices ranged from US $5 — the cost of a coffee in what passes for the city's finest hotel — to the most expensive child, an eleven year old, costing US $15.
The place is known, locally, as Le Marche de Jeunes Filles — the Market of Young Girls.
Buyers, men carrying fly-whisks, and sharp-eyed women, strolled up and down along the benches, feeling one girl's arm, looking at another's teeth. One was asked to stand and twirl. Another to bend.
Around the edges of the square stood the traders. The moment a prospective buyer stopped, a trader was there to emphasise a girl's good points.
“She is young and disease free. She is strong and will obey your every command. She will do whatever you want…” he would intone.
No one knows today how many sexual slaves there are in the world. The International Organisation for Migration estimated in December, 2003, that from Eastern Europe alone there could be half a million.
Anti-Slavery International believes the global figure may run to “tens of millions”. The one certainty, adds the world's oldest human rights organisation, is that there are more sexual slaves than ever before.
WHERE IN THE HELL IS AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL?????
The United States State Department announced in June, 2003, that fifteen countries were now deeply involved in trafficking humans. They included Greece and Italy, both members of the European Community. The State Department estimated that through the fifteen countries almost one million adults and children brought and sold annually into the sex slave market. Secretary of State Colin Powell rightly called it a blight on humanity.
There is growing evidence that many of those slaves are traded over the internet; pimps, often catering for extreme sexual demands ranging from unprotected sex to torture, can log on to women and children best suited to their “markets”.
In Britain, Scotland Yard believes that over 5,000 girls from former-Communist countries were smuggled into the country in 2003. Each earned their pimps an estimated over US $2,000 a day.
Bill Hughes, Director General of Britain's National Crime Squad, said: “A growing number of girls are barely into their teens. Although the number is small compared to such countries as Greece and Italy, it has had a startling impact on London's indigenous vice trade.
“British teenagers have been moved out by their pimps into the city suburbs as their rates are undercut by sex slaves imported from the Balkans into London's traditional Soho red light district.
“They have come from Romania, the Ukraine and Moldova. The great majority have escaped from dirt-poor villages, with no modern form of communications — some villages do not even have a single telephone let alone a policeman.
“That makes it easier for a young girl to be lured away or kidnapped from their homes — and never to be traced again”, added Hughes.
The former Soviet Republics are the nexus of the traffic. Serbia and Yugoslavia are key staging posts along this road of unspeakable misery. It is in those countries that the majority of girls are housed, waiting for pimps to conduct an initial inspection. The girls — and some boys — are then taken by road to one of the regular “flesh markets”.
In 2003, those sales took place in the many apartment block complexes on the outskirts of Belgrade. The girls are handled like livestock and, once one has been bought by a pimp — prices can be up to US $1,500 for a teenager, double that for a pre-teen — the victim will usually be beaten, drugged and forced to have sex with scores of men a week.
If she tries to escape, she can be subjected to further horrendous sexual abuse — and warned that if she tries again to escape, her family back home will be killed.
The Belgrade apartments are owned by Semion Yokovich Mogilevich. He is a specialist in every type of major crime.
A document by MI5, Britain's internal security service, describes this Ukranian as “one of the most dangerous criminals on earth”.
Mogilevich is wanted in the United States for a multitude of crimes including bank frauds, money laundering and other currency offences. He is protected by his own private army — and, according to CIA sources, he has a liking for young girls.
Documents in the agency possession show he is a regular visitor to the apartments to pick out a girl.
One CIA document identifies Mogilevich as the head of the Rising Sun, one of Moscow's major criminal families.
“His business is global prostitution, drug running and traffic in humans. He runs a dark and evil empire. A number of people who have crossed his path have been disposed of. He has his own team of killers never further away than a phone call”, said former British intelligence officer Colin Wallace.
Unable to travel to the West for fear of immediate arrest, Mogilevich moves between Moscow and Belgrade with his bodyguards and his latest choice of girl.
HERE'S A JOKE!
The office for the UN High Commission for Human Rights has identified other criminal gangs from Macedonia and Serbia as being involved in sex trafficking. But along with Mogilevich, it is the criminal warlords of Albania who now dominate it.
A report prepared by the Commission states:
“Girls who've shown signs of disobedience have had their feet cemented into washbasins before being dumped in the Aegean Sea. Others have been horrifically tortured. The Albanian gangs have a seemingly endless supply of women, and their power extends way beyond their homeland to the underworlds of Italy and parts of New York. The victims do not officially exist and are powerless to resist.”
Most Albanian gangsters are men in their twenties from the backward north of the country. Rather than being based around individual gangland bosses, they are organized in clans bound by an ancient code of honour called kanun. Some of the profits are returned to their homelands.
In 2002, UN administration in Kosovo and Bosnia enacted new laws to prohibit the traffic. But there have been few prosecutions, and such as have occurred have been tainted by charges of corruption. UN teams set up to rescue the girls have often found that when they organise a raid, the brothel-keepers have been tipped off.
A UN report into trafficking claims that some Western officials are undermining attempts to clean up the trade by becoming cronies of Balkan pimps. The same is true of some of the international and local police.
In one case, cited by the report, Bulgarian border police took money from girls to secure their safe passage back to Bulgaria, only to hand them back to the traffickers in exchange for yet more money.
The fate of those four young girls who were smuggled over the border into Bosnia to work in Arizona Market was to be hustled from the Volvo into a large wooden building. Standing around its walls were the brothel keepers of Arizona Market.
Maria and her companions were ordered to undress. When Maria refused, her dress was ripped from her. Naked, she and the other girls were forced to stand on wooden crates. The brothel keepers physically inspected the women.
Then the bidding began. In minutes Maria had been sold to a brothel keeper for US $1,500. The other girls fetched prices ranging from US $350 to US $1,200.
For US $20 a client could spend thirty minutes with Maria.
For US $2.50 he could buy a bottle of beer while he satisfied himself.
Maria would soon discover that there was no escape from a life where she is expected to have unprotected sex. She is owned body and soul by the man who bought her.
All she receives are three meals a day, a bed to sleep on and the skimpy clothes her owner insists she must wear to attract clients.
A UN peacekeeper in Kosovo, who asked not to be named, told me: “Often the girls are sold on by other brothel keepers. They are traded like cattle and are routinely beaten and drugged. If a girl tries to escape, she is raped or tortured — or told that her mother back home will be killed.”
Milan Sitilovic, the Bosnian police chief with responsibility for Arizona Market says: “How can we stop it? Prostitution is the oldest profession in the world”.
Frederick Larson who headed the office of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Sarajevo identified the problem, “the girls are terrified of testifying against their owners. Those who dare to do so are simply murdered”.
In 2001, the naked bodies of several girls were found in a river near Arizona Market. They bore the hallmarks of Russian mafia-style killings; hands had been tied behind their backs and their feet set in concrete. Their breasts had been slashed off.
Arizona Market is situated close to the Bosnian headquarters of the US peacekeeping force. During 2002, six Russian soldiers, members of K-For, gang-raped two girls in the Arizona Market.
As they were “owned” by the club owner, the soldiers paid him a small sum in compensation. No other charges were brought against the rapists.
Those who survive such inhumane treatment are often sold on to the international slave market.
Paul Holmes, of London's Metropolitan Police Vice Squad, has estimated that 80% of all women working in the brothels of Britain's capital are from the Balkans.
His own investigations concluded that the traffic in women had made their owners at least US $75 million since the start of the Third Millennium.
His facts and figures can be repeated through the Western world. In Paris, Dublin, Rome, New York, Montreal and Los Angeles, police report the same story: when rescued from sexual bondage, the women are too terrified to testify against those who traffic in them.
As of now the penalties against trading in preteen sex slaves is small compared to those handed out against drug runners or arms dealers. Indeed, in Bosnia, the offence is not even on the statute book.
Pino Arlacchi, executive director of the United Nations Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention said: “the trafficking in people is now the fastest growing transnational criminal activity”.
Frederick Larson explained that, apart from his organisation, there is almost nothing to protect sex slaves in Bosnia. The girls are regarded as illegal immigrants, and are treated as such, rather than the victims of gross human rights violations.
All NATO and UN officials who frequent Arizona Market are entitled to immunity from Bosnian prosecution — although not from legal consequences when they return home.
However, the possibility of any conviction in a US or UK court is non-existent, given that no abused girl is ever likely to be able to give evidence.
Recently an international police team carried out a raid on three bars in Arizona Market. They rescued thirty-four girls, three of whom were aged just fourteen. The raids were carried out without the assistance of the local police.
Afterwards, team members faced disciplinary charges for “exceeding their authority”. The charges were not pursued; the officers have quietly left Bosnia.
The IOM has set up safe houses in Sarajevo to protect girls, some as young as eleven, who have escaped from brothels.
“The best we can do is to offer them support and repatriation”, said Larson.
But the reality again is that a girl who does go home to a country like Moldova is often cast-out by her family who suspect what happened to her in Bosnia. All too often, she ends up prostituting herself on the streets of the country's capital, Chisnau.
In Bosnia, the international peace-keeping force has failed to control, let alone eradicate, the transport of sexual slaves.
Jaque Grinberg, the UN missions head of civil affairs — a caring and committed official — said there was “an urgent need for an effective border force”. The office of the High Representative in Bosnia ordered its creation. But there was no money to bring it to reality.
The trafficking business started with the arrival of UN peacekeepers in 1993. Until then Bosnia had no “sex industry”. The mission of the peacekeepers was to bring democracy. But too many of their members saw an easy way to make money as well as satisfy their own sexual desires.
“After the peacekeepers arrived, criminal gangs who had smuggled guns during the war began to traffic in women and girls. There was more profit and less risk. And so it goes on”, said a member of the international police force, Don Thomas.
“The evils of what is going on are obvious. But the problem is that the victims are horribly exploited, many of them also claim they are not in Bosnia involuntarily. That is the rub. How can you convince some kid who is so terrified that she will not talk? If she opens her mouth she is dead meat”, added Thomas.
The worst offenders are the 3,000 Russian peace-keepers. Some girls have described how friends were taken into the Russian camps and never seen again.
Unlike Bosnia, where the UN peacekeepers arrived in a blaze of publicity, no one knows exactly when “the Germans” started to arrive in their big cars for sex with the children of Cheb.
The men who drive into the cheerless town know they no longer have to fly to Thailand to have sex with a child.
Many of the child prostitutes come from Cheb's large Roman refugee population. Their knowledge of German is confined to the sexual words of their trade.
By night, they haunt the park adjoining the town's Evropska Street or stand in darkened doorways in the alleys.
New byelaws have forbidden street prostitution in the centre of Cheb; video cameras have been installed to monitor the area.
Catherin Schauer, a nurse who works for Karo, a child-rescue project supported by the German Red Cross and the European Commission, said the police are largely indifferent to what goes on.
“Those who work as prostitutes are usually homeless and turned on to drugs. They start by sniffing glue and then move on to a substance known as 'Äòpiko”, a cheap amphetamine which suppresses feelings of cold and hunger”, said Schauer.
Some of the children have been born in Cheb after their families fled from eastern Europe in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. At an age when their childhood is beginning to expand, they are forced into prostitution.
One girl, her face smeared with make-up who admitted she was thirteen, said “the Germans like us to wear as little as possible. I only wear a short skirt and a t-shirt and my sandals”.
She added that in “a good night” she had four or five clients. “They pay me anything from US $20 to US $30 dollars. It's good money for a few hours of work. I always make them use a condom. But some of the younger girls allow unprotected sex. Because they are not menstruating, they believe they won't become pregnant”.
Catherine Schauer said that a growing number of these under-age girls had developed HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
She and her colleagues distribute condoms to the children. The rescue centre has a drop-in facility where the children can go for treatment.
“We are a little sensitive about all this. There would not be a problem but for the Germans. We know that the sex tourists are 99 percent from Bavaria and Saxony”, said Petr Jaks, Cheb's deputy mayor.
He did admit there had been “a problem to get our police motivated, but we hope this will change soon”.
A senior police officer reluctantly agreed to talk on the basis of having his identity concealed.
“My colleagues and I have better things to do than check on every kid who hangs around the streets. As far as we are concerned, they are just out for a night of fun. Look at the way they dress: good quality jeans, Adidas shoes. Sure, they may take a little dope. But so do the kids in Munich.”
What about all the Germans who drive into the town every night? The officer shrugged. “They spend good money in our bars. If they pick up a girl, so what. It happens everywhere.”
Even small children?
He smiled indifferently. “How can you tell if a girl is ten, thirteen or fifteen? These Romanian kids grow up quickly. Anyway, why pick on Cheb? Prostitution is all along the border.”
That is true. At every crossing, the child whores are there, alongside the traders selling cheap cigarettes and Becherovka, the Czech national drink.
Catherin Schauer and her small team of dedicated social workers note down the license plate numbers of the German cars entering the town, then send them to the nearest German city of Regensburg.
There is a German law, passed in 1993, under which the Federal Republic can prosecute men who have sex with minors abroad. If found guilty, a culprit can be sentenced up to ten years in jail.
But, as in Bosnia, the reality is very different. Josef Heisl, a police officer with the Regensburg force said “when we get the license plates from Cheb, we do question the car drivers. The men just say they were looking for directions.
To make a successful prosecution, we have to catch a man in the act of having sex with a minor — or get a child to file a complaint. That is purely wishful thinking”.
Just as in Cheb, the turnover of girls is high at Le Marche de Jeunes Filles — the baked earth market place in Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast.
The girls come from the country's remote rural areas, lured away from their villages by promise of a better life in the city. Family and friends sew their new clothes and arrange their hair before they leave home. But once they arrive in Abidjan, they find there is no work; instead they are sold-off like cattle in that market place.
Some, the lucky ones, are sent to toil in up-country cocoa plantations. Others are shipped off to Sudan, where slave traders shackle them for the long journey to the Middle East to restock the region's brothels.
Still others end up in a truck stop called Salgaa on the main Kenya-Uganda highway. It is the biggest whorehouse in central Africa.
In 2003, it had 24 bars and 500 prostitutes — an estimated half of them under age.
In a regional economy that is close to collapse elsewhere, Salgaa is booming. It is a cut-price version of Arizona Market. In Salgaa a child can be procured for one US dollar.
In Salgaa the life expectancy of a prostitute is put in months rather than years. Their clients are the thousands of truck drivers who travel every week up and down the highway.
The girls work out of seedy bars with names like the Good Times Hotel and New Paradise.
AIDS is a killer by many names here: “mikingo” meaning “slow puncture”; and “kauzi” meaning “slim as a thread”, an apt description to describe the body wasting process of the disease.
Sharin Cmemtai, who admitted to being “only fifteen”, said that her “worst clients are the Arabs. They can be very violent. I try to charge them more. But it is impossible for me to keep the extra money. He always takes it straight away after sex”.
“He” was her pimp, a burly Kenyan who is reputed to have a stable of fifty young girls, a number of them in their pre-teens, working in Salgaa.
His girls live in a small compound. It has one water tap, two showers and three stinking pit latrines. Most weeks a girl is diagnosed as in the final stages of AIDS.
Overnight she will be taken from the compound by the pimp. There is a widespread fear she is dumped in the bush to be devoured by the jackals or other wild animals.
Within hours a new girl will arrive as a replacement.
She, too, can expect to be dead within a year. To survive longer in Salgaa is a miracle.
Only none of the girls who work there believe in such divine intervention.
The global traffic in children for commercial sexual exploitation involves torture and their premeditated rape and mutilation. If and when the authorities decide to take action against the child sex trade, it achieves very little.
This terrible human abuse, the prerogative of no one race or colour, continues to occur under all religions, and where there is no religion. The sexual traffic in children is the product of greed and lust which feeds off abject poverty.
There is no solution in sight until that poverty is addressed — and the traffickers sentenced to long terms.
By a collective indifference and silence, the betrayal of children will persist.
*** Gordon Thomas' work includes the five-times nominated Academy Award winner “Voyage Of The Damned”; “Enola Gay”, winner of the Emmy Best Foreign Film prize; “A Bit Of An Experience”, winner of the Monte Carlo Film Festival Critics and Jury's prizes. His “Underpass” received the Best Original Screenplay submission at the 1999 Cannes Festival.
***Gordon Thomas specializes in international intelligence matters.