The Czech Republic has in recent years gained some notoriety as a centre of cheap prostitution. If that reputation was not bad enough, a new report from the United Nations children's organisation, UNICEF, says the Czech-German border region is rife with child prostitution. The area, says the report, is a haven for German paedophiles, with Czech children often being pimped by members of their own family. For their part, the Czech police say they have no evidence that child prostitution exists, and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has described the UNICEF report as "unrealistic". I spoke to Pavla Gomba, the director of UNICEF in Prague, and asked her is she was surprised by the contents of the report, which was written by a German sociologist.
"This report is the result of co-operation between UNICEF in Germany and a non-governmental organisation called Karo, which has been active in the border region since 1996. And I think there have been some indications that the Czech Republic has a problem of child prostitution. But I think it's very difficult to measure the scale of the problem."
A lot of Czechs will say this report is sensational. It says that tens of thousands of German paedophiles come to this country, that children are pimped by their own families, even that eight-year-olds are selling themselves on the street...
"We do not pretend to know the exact scale of the problem but the fact is that prostitution is a flourishing industry in the border regions, and there are very serious and reliable indications that it involves children as well."
Even as young as eight years old?
"Definitely. I think the challenge is that child prostitution is of a very secret nature; it takes place behind walls, on empty streets, in forests and parks, and there are, of course, no official statistics. But I think that child prostitution is a problem in the Czech Republic. We just don't know what the scale of the problem is."
Some people would say that child prostitution does not take place, but what happens is paedophiles are lured to such quiet places where there are then robbed.
"Prostitution is linked with many other crimes like drugs, blackmailing, even robbery, so I think it's typical everywhere."
The report also says that children are brought here from other countries and forced into prostitution - do you know anything about that?
"UNICEF estimates that every year one million children are the victims of trafficking. Of course the situation may be different in West Africa or Southeast Asia, but there are also indications that it is a problem of other countries, especially in Eastern Europe. So it may happen."
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