04/27/2007versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

A law against sex tourist looking for underage kids
The Golden Age of sex tourism is about to come to an end. In May a legislation on childhood and teenage will become effective and punishments for paedophiles will be very severe. Most of all Cartagena de Indias will sigh with relief. The Colombian town on the Atlantic Ocean is the favourite destination of the tourist looking for debauchery: cocaine and easy sex are great appeals but it means also that over 2000 children are involved in under age prostitution. A business of millions of pesos that exploits even 5-6 years old children of both sexes. The well organized criminal network that manages this business is a paramilitary group part of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) and its leader Salvatore Mancuso, unchallenged master of the international narcotics, is today under house arrest waiting for judgement.

Young prostitutes of Cartagena de Indias. Photo by Matt Shonfeld.The evening of the beautiful life. The legislation that will take effect, is the very elaborate result of a five-year effort carved out by a special Commission including UN representatives and, National and International NGOs. Ms. Veronique Henry, the Colombian delegate of the Swiss NGO Terre des Hommes that for years has fought children exploitation, explains: “Finally even the 41.5% of Colombian people, which means youths under 18, is acknowledged as entitled to human rights. The Government could not keep the eyes shut in front of 14millions children victims of sexual crimes in Colombia, and to those we add 11thousand abused at home, 2.7 million working children, 9 million killed every day and 2.5 million living under the poverty line.” 100thousand children live in the street and 10thousand are enlisted in armed rebellious groups.

A Colombian child prostitute of Cartagena de Indias. Photo by Matt ShonfeldThe testimony. “A law that took into account the superior interests of underage boys and girls, was most urgent, Ms. Henry says, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989, ratified by Colombia in ’99, forcefully called for it. The new legislation will erase the rule of “favorabilidad” in crimes against underage children. According to this legal rule the defendant of a felony whose estimated punishment is less than 4 years, could not be taken into precautionary custody. More than once it became a nightmare to young boys and girls stalked by their executioner because they dared accuse them. From now on there will be no more advantage, neither negotiation nor expedited hearing order for adults abusing kids, and they might be sentenced up to 10 years prison term. Something is changing and we will keep fighting."

Bookseller of Cartagena de Indias. Photo by Matt ShonfeldMore good news. The first step to avert the problem is to shake the consciousness of the citizens and the institutions. To prove it we can look at the result of the hard work carried out by a network of organizations, including the Italian Committee for the people development (CISP). In 2006 the Municipality, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the National Institute for family welfare (acting out for the government) and the main tourism companies signed the "Code of actions against sexual exploitation of underage youths" under the patronage of the district council. The Code is a list of behaviours to be avoided and precautions to be taken, including flyers against “Sex Tourism” hanged in bars and airports, specially trained agents located in the hottest spots and public talks to raise the awareness of the hotels staff. “It’s a very important act, a real code of deontology, of moral obligations, that I hope will not remain just a dead piece of writing, Ms. Henry says, young boys and girls must understand that they are not alone, that they could and should denounce every single case.” It’s because of the general indifference that this business flourishes. “As long as people keep silent, there will be impunity.” As of now only three paedophiles are behind bars, all of them Colombian. And only one of them has been sentenced to 8 years and 9 months. Nonetheless Veronique feels “full of hope for the future”.