Does the Czech Republic have a serious problem with child prostitution? That question has received a lot of attention recently, since the German branch of the United Nations children's organisation, Unicef, published a report depicting the Czech-German border region as a haven for German paedophiles. Czech government and local officials responded in anger, demanding proof or an apology. This week Czech and German officials finally met face to face, determined to put aside their differences and take joint action against crime in the border regions.
It took a month for the storm of emotions to subside -but this week Czech and German interior ministry officials put their differences aside and met in Dresden to map out a joint strategy against border crime, prostitution and child prostitution in particular. A six member team has been set up of police chiefs and liaison officers from Western Bohemia, Saxony and Bavaria - who are to ensure a steady exchange of information and joint police action on cross-border crimes. They will also work together on prevention programmes and information campaigns. Neither side wanted to comment further on the report for Unicef by the German NGO Karo.
"We cannot confirm the claims made by Karo, and we very much regret the fact that a private view expressed by an employee of the Saxony police presidium added fuel to the fire" a Saxony police chief said in Dresden. He stressed that the work of the new team should show whether or not there was any truth in the claims made. And if there was a problem the two sides would take effective action against it, he said. The inhabitants of Czech border towns have welcomed the initiative. Prostitution has been a major problem in the area - so much so that several mayors said they would prefer to see it legalized in order to get it off the streets and into the privacy of brothels. And despite assurances from Czech officials that child prostitution is not a serious problem, there are no official statistics and many Czechs are worried that it may go on behind closed doors. A certain Romany mother complained, shortly after Unicef published Karo's report, that the negative publicity was creating problems. She said she had been approached by foreigners who had offered to pay for sex with one of her young children. Whether or not the report prompted this particular offer - clearly it is reason for concern. For where there is demand there generally tends to be supply -sooner or later. And no matter how much or little truth the Unicef report contained about the situation in the Czech border regions it has galvanized officials into action - something that the locals are grateful for.