It's 11:00pm and I'm standing in the lower half of Prague's Vaclavske namesti, or Wenceslaus Square. It is quite a busy intersection as you can hear...and it's also one of the places in Prague with the highest rate of prostitution on offer, or illegal activity in general. In this week's Talking Point we'll have a look at what happens here with illegal migrants and sex workers.
Police in the west Bohemian region of Cheb have admitted for the first time that cases of child prostitution in the area are more widespread than previously revealed. Detective Jiri Istavnik told public broadcaster Czech TV that police in the area had investigated 7 cases of sexual abuse of minors by visiting tourists since 1997. Police also cited 60 cases in which youths' moral upbringing had been put under threat. Last week the subject of child prostitution again made headlines after a German television reporter from Pro 7 taped secret footage of a 12-year-old girl being offered for sexual favours. Until now police in Cheb had denied child prostitution in the area had gone beyond the isolated case.
The Brno Regional court has started hearing the case of 41-year-old Jana Burdova from Znojmo, south Moravia, who is suspected of organising child prostitution in 2000-2003, which involved four girls aged from 7 to 16, including her own daughters. Men from nearby Austria were the girls' most frequent clients. If found guilty, Ms Burdova faces up to 12 years in prison. According to experts, child prostitution is one of the Czech Republic's chief problems in the security area. It occurs mainly in border regions and in Prague. The country has been repeatedly criticised by various foreign institutions in this respect.
Earlier this week, the US Department of State released its fourth annual "Trafficking in Persons Report". In its assessment, it stated the Czech Republic is a source, transit, and destination country for women trafficked for sexual exploitation. The report advises Czech authorities to use trafficking legislation to give stronger penalties to convicted trafficker as convictions and sentences remain low. But as Mark Fernandes reports, the Czech Republic is on the right track, getting a much needed boost this month to fight people trafficking. The
The Usti nad Labem regional authority has begun handing out leaflets in German alerting tourists who cross the border from the neighbouring state of Saxony of the fact that child prostitution is a crime. Regional governor Jiri Sulc took part in the campaign on Tuesday, handing out leaflets at a border crossing, the website Novinky reported. The German branch of UNICEF published a report in November saying the Czech-German border region was rife with child prostitution, though Czech authorities say it is not a common problem.
All the Czech dailies dedicate most of their front page space to Thursday's terrorist attacks in the Spanish capital Madrid in which almost 200 people died and around 1,400 were injured. All papers carry photos of the scenes of devastation as well as pictures of rescue workers and medical personnel helping the victims.
The European Parliament has expressed concern over alleged trafficking in human beings, especially children, at the Czech-German border and called on the Czech government to support aid programmes targeted at the victims. At the same time the EU body admitted it had no hard evidence of the existence of child prostitution in the Czech Republic. In its report on Thursday on the state of preparedness for EU membership of the ten countries about to join the EU, the European Parliament gave the Czech Republic good marks overall, but beside the alleged problem of child prostitution, MEPs also voiced disquiet at the European Commission's finding that the Czech Republic is not yet able to adopt EU standards in food-processing and urged immediate action so as not to endanger European consumers.
Interior Minister Stanislav Gross has said he wants to propose to his German counterpart Otto Schily that the two countries' police forces jointly tackle the problem of child prostitution in border areas. Mr Gross said that cooperation between the two countries' police forces will be based on the Czech-German treaty on mutual assistance in criminal matters. A media campaign around child prostitution along the Czech-German border was stirred up in October by information published in a report by the German non-government organisation Karo, suggesting child prostitution was rampant in border regions. Both Czech police and local authorities say the information about hundreds of children offered for prostitution in the area was exaggerated.
A Czech court has given two Czech men and one Swedish national sentences ranging from several months to several years in prison for the production and distribution of child pornography. 43-year-old Pavel Rohel, the head of a modelling agency in the town of Nachod in east Bohemia, received three years in prison, while his 35-year-old employee Jaroslav Hampl received ten months. The Swedish citizen, John Axel Victorin received the highest sentence of three-and-a-half years. The three were found guilty of corrupting the morals of children and youth and sexually abusing models, though Mr Victorin denied any wrong-doing. All three men have appealed the verdict.
The determined rescue efforts that went into saving a group of eleven Russian miners trapped 700 metres underground for six long days has been a closely watched story - and today's papers finally bring relief - the struggle is over and the blackened, tired faces of the rescued miners look out from the front pages. It was a nightmare but it is over, one of them says.