Sexual exploitation of children World problem: Scandal gripping Belgium is only one of many endangering young people.


SOMETHING HAPPENED in Belgium to overcome the divisions between Dutch-and French-speakers and immigrants. The bond is outrage at bungling investigations or a cover-up of sexual depredations against children. It has brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators into the streets, shaken the government and judicial establishment to their cores and still grows.

The crime that set this off seemed an aberration. A police raid on the home of Marc Dutroux found two young girls alive who had been kidnapped, starved and abused for months. The convicted child molester admitted murdering four others. The hunt is on for accomplices.

There is more. A senior police officer is accused of participating in a car theft ring with Dutroux, who is suspected of commercial child pornography. Rumors persist purporting to link him to powerful persons. Two previous searches of his home found nothing. The investigating magistrate who led the successful raid and became a national hero was taken off the case on grounds that sound frivolous. That's when the mass indignation erupted.

European governments are seeking ways to move legally against tourism organized in their countries for sexual gratification in Asia with child prostitutes. The AIDS epidemic has created demand for younger prostitutes, presumed to be HIV-free. Sexual exploitation of children comes out of a tradition of industrial exploitation in rug and textile production. In some countries of the former Soviet bloc, child prostitution is growing.

The burgeoning international scourge of child pornography and child prostitution compels cooperation in the movement to confront it. This must include criminalizing commercial sexual exploitation including travel promotion for that purpose; treating child prostitutes as victims; trading information with enforcement agencies of other nations. When the crimes are international, so must be the crime fighting.

Pub Date: 10/23/96

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