When relief workers take evil overseas; The good work of foreign-aid organizations may be compromised by pedophiles looking for safe havens
By Faisal Kutty – Who can forget the death and misery of the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s that was beamed across our television screens? Everyone old enough to have seen or read about it probably has some recollection.
Deplorably, we may see it again. Another famine appears imminent on the Ethiopian/Eritrean horizon. In fact, some parts of these nations have not seen a crop for two to three years. Indeed, the situation is so bad that the United Nations has issued calls for emergency relief. The aid is crucial, as the two warring countries’ coffers are being drained at a phenomenal rate. In the case of Ethiopia, for instance, the treasury is reportedly being depleted at the tune of $1 million dollars a day — a significant amount for a country with an annual budget just over $1.2 billion dollars. And the situation appears to be getting worse.
Unfortunately, the international community may have more to worry about than the long civil war there and getting aid to the suffering masses. It seems that the world will now also have to worry about the workers entering the area to distribute and manage humanitarian aid.
The reality is that a growing number of pedophiles are reportedly infiltrating aid organizations and joining relief groups in order to get access to children. And it’s not a few isolated incidents.
The problem is not exclusive to Ethiopia/Eritrea, but recent reports indicate the country is one of many being targeted because of its particular vulnerability. The issue is not one that most people would have thought about. In fact, a spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said nobody would have ever thought of this a few years ago.
It appears to be a simple case of people moving to another neighborhood when their home turf becomes unsafe. As the Western world tightens its laws dealing with pedophiles, many of them are finding greener pastures in war-ravaged and politically unstable nations. The breakdown of the rule of law appears to be an open invitation.
The first wave was evident from the growth of sex tourism. An increasing number of Westerners and even some Middle Easterners have travelled to such countries as Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Cuba, India, and Philippines to practice their deviant ways in places where child exploitation laws are weak or non-existent. Thanks to the work of groups such as End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT), sex tour operators have been forced to roll back their operations and be less daring in their marketing.
ECPAT has attained some level of success in putting the child sex abuse issue on the international agenda. In Stockholm in 1996, for example, the group, along with UNICEF, the non-government Group for the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Swedish government, co-sponsored the First World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. Representatives of more than 200 non-government organization (NGOs) and 122 nations came up with a Declaration of Agenda for Action. The agenda provided a framework to implement specific articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child dealing with sexual exploitation of children. Much remains to be done, but at least the first steps have been taken.
This push was reinforced by the efforts of Interpol’s Standing Working Party on Offences against Minors, which has promoted extraterritorial legislation and set up mechanisms to detect and convict such criminals. In fact, several countries, including Canada and the United States, have enacted legislation to investigate, charge and try their nationals for crimes committed in other jurisdictions. This has closed off a major route of escape for pedophiles. They can still bribe local officials for their freedom, but can still be brought to justice upon return.
With such concrete steps being taken to combat sex tourism, pedophiles have resorted to other means to get access to children. Despicably, some pedophiles appear to have moved their activities to aid organizations. According to the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper, a joint investigation involving the RCMP, Britain’s National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) and Interpol is under way to deal with a ring of pedophiles operating in Africa.
Though the problem is not limited to Africa, nobody is certain of its extent. But a spokesman for NCIS has said that criminal infiltration of aid agencies has become, like sex tourism, a major concern.
Infiltration of groups working with children is not limited to the developing world. In fact, there have been numerous instances in Canada of “care-givers” and “care-takers” using their positions of trust and influence — be it as a scout leader, youth leader, coach or mentor or in youth homes and orphanages — to identify and have access to vulnerable children. Toronto, for instance, over the last few years has witnessed the trial of a number of workers at Maple Leaf Gardens who preyed on hundreds of young hockey fans. In Australia, a royal commission has been appointed to look into organized pedophilia, child pornography and sexual exploitation. The daily newspapers provide ample examples.
But the situation has the potential to get a lot worse in the developing world where the mechanisms for detection and prosecution may be ineffective or even non-existent in many cases. Many children in countries or regions undergoing political turmoil find themselves far removed from their loved ones and other support groups. This makes them especially easy prey. In fact, in some countries pedophiles have been known to set up bogus children centres and vocational training centres to entice children.
In the Ethiopian situation, the pedophiles appear to have descended on the Jari Children’s Village. The village for orphans, set up in 1974 by the Swiss charity Terre Des Hommes, reportedly attracted a number of pedophiles. According to The Guardian, the country representative for the charity, a British national, not only abused the children but also introduced other pedophiles to the children under his care.
It’s important to note that most people who devote their lives to take care of destitute children are driven by their desire to improve the lot of these children. In fact, the breach of trust and the psychological and physical injury done to children by pedophiles also harms those who dedicate their lives to help children.
Ultimately, the Western world is in the best position to prevent the abuse. Covert activity is always difficult to prosecute but ways must be found. The laws enacted to prosecute sex tourism must also be used to combat pedophiles moving into the relief sector. Canadian and British law enforcement authorities have called upon aid organizations to closely look into the backgrounds of people signing up to work with children. Organizations negligent in this regard must be held responsible for the actions of their employees as well. Given the fact that many pedophiles have a record of offenses, this may be one way to reduce the numbers entering the field.
Some people feel that this is placing unnecessary burden on such organizations, but, given the circumstances, is there any other choice?
There may be a need to revise existing laws to address the peculiarities of this criminal act, particularly with respect to the role of the relief groups employing such criminals. Any such amendments should be enacted quickly before more children are robbed of their innocence.
Even the best laws won’t have any effect if there is no will to enforce them. Authorities must be prepared to follow through and enforce laws against pedophiles operating outside their jurisdiction.
A strong message must be sent. Pedophiles must be unequivocally told that if they get caught exploiting children they will be dealt with harshly.
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and freelance writer.
Note: First Published Hamilton Spectator (Ontario, Canada) August 18, 2000 Friday Final Edition
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