Fri, Oct 19, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Asia a growing haven for pedophiles


In an Internet exchange intercepted by Cambodian police, two teachers -- apparently foreigners -- discuss how easy it is to pick up mostly homeless boys between 10 and 14 years old and bring them to their apartments for sex.

"I am having a wonderful time with them sexually. Some of them are very interesting. There is never a dull moment," one of the teachers wrote, in a transcript published in 2004 by Beyond Borders, a Canadian organization combating sexual abuse of children.

"Last night, four boys spent the night and I like all four of them," it said.

A high-profile manhunt in Thailand this week for a suspected pedophile has highlighted how Southeast Asia has become a magnet for pedophiles.

Some commit their crimes with relative impunity, walking hand-in-hand with underage girls in Bangkok or with boys in a resort hotel in Bali. Some work as English teachers, giving them access to students.

Across the region, hundreds of thousands of children are believed to work in the sex trade, mostly in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

"Everything here makes the crime easy," said Beyond Borders president Rosalind Prober during a visit to Bangkok.

"This can be an open crime in Thailand when Western men are obviously in front of people carrying on in this way," she said. "It becomes normalized so they don't think they are doing anything wrong."

The target of the manhunt is Christopher Paul Neil, a 32-year-old Canadian teacher who suddenly left South Korea on a one-way ticket for Thailand last week as investigators closed in on his identity.

He was photographed as part of standard immigration procedures when he arrived at Bangkok's international airport. He remains at large, presumably somewhere in Thailand.

Some pedophiles use secretive rings in cyberspace to find their victims. The networks offer tips on the best places to meet children or arrange sexual rendezvous in luxury condos or on private yachts.

To get access to such networks and earn credibility among their fellow pedophiles, individuals often must provide evidence of sex acts they have committed with children -- as Neil appears to have done by putting the sexually explicit photos of himself with young boys on the Internet.

Others turn to jobs like teaching or tutoring that gives them ready access to youngsters.

Teaching English is especially popular because jobs are easy to get, and the position carries with it a level of authority that makes it difficult for the children and even their parents to question abuses.

"The children are sitting ducks. This is their teacher. This is someone you trust and tells you what to do," Prober said. "You very quickly get trapped. There is such a level of control and power by a teacher. It's multiplied when it comes to a foreign teacher."

Poverty contributes to the problem. Many of the victims are the poorest children, including beggars, street children and the homeless.

"It's all a manifestation of poverty that creates the vulnerabilities," UNICEF' deputy regional director for East Asia and the Pacific Richard Bridle said.

Pedophiles also take advantage of Asian legal systems where cash bribes can lead to charges being dropped or victim's relatives and other witnesses suddenly changing their stories.

Asian governments have begun to address the problem, enacting tough laws and moving to convict pedophiles in Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia.

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