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Fight against child porn steps up a gear

Over eighty delegates from around the world are attending the Interpol conference

(swissinfo.ch)

An international conference in Thun has called for increased cooperation in the fight against child abuse.

Delegates from more than 35 countries attended the three-day Interpol meeting, which focused on fighting pornography on the Internet.

A spokesman for the federal police office said four international investigations had been launched as a result of the new information presented at the conference, which ended on Thursday.

At the start of the conference, the justice minister, Ruth Dreifuss, said joint action was needed if children were to be protected from abuse.

"We must safeguard the most vulnerable members of our society," she said. "And we must do it together because a crime against a child is the worst thing that can happen."

She also warned that even though there were no reliable figures yet on the number of people in Switzerland who accessed child pornography on the Internet, the gravity of the situation should not be underestimated. And she called for improved cooperation between the federal and cantonal authorities.

International forum

In addition to tackling child pornography on the Internet, delegates also looked at themes such as sex tourism, child prostitution and human trafficking.

Claire McKeon of Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France told swissinfo that the working group, which was set up in 1992 gave participants the chance to share information and intelligence.

"They are all members of law enforcement agencies in their countries," she said. "Coming together twice a year allows us to assess our needs in the fields of child abuse and child pornography.

"We also look at how we can support each other and find solutions to problems that each country is having."

Keeping pace

According to the United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef, more than one million children a year are victims of the child pornography industry which has an estimated turnover of $US 20 billion

Interpol has already set up a working group to investigate child pornography on the web and how to combat it and keep pace with rapid advances in technology.

Distributors of child pornography on the web leave few traces of their presence, making it difficult to track down and prosecute offenders. Legal and technical hurdles also have to be overcome.

Operation Genesis

The conference comes just weeks after a nationwide investigation in Switzerland which saw 1,100 suspects questioned for child porn offences.

All were accused of using credit cards to buy pornographic material over the Internet.

The nationwide search, dubbed Operation Genesis, followed information from authorities in the United States, who provided Swiss officials with lists of subscribers to a US Internet company.

Under Swiss law, the possession or downloading of hardcore pornography - involving children, animals or violence - from the Internet carries heavy fines or a maximum sentence of one year in prison.

However, viewing child pornography on the Internet is not in itself a criminal offence.

Jean-Luc Vez, the director of Federal Police Office, told swissinfo that the success of Operation Genesis and changes in the law reflected Switzerland's commitment to fighting child pornography.

"We want to develop bilateral cooperation with other countries especially in southeast Europe and southeast Asia," he said.

Switzerland will appoint a police attaché to Thailand next year to work with local police on specific child sex cases. Negotiations are also underway to make a similar appointment in the Philippines.

Internet surveillance

Switzerland is due to set up a dedicated Internet surveillance unit, at the beginning of next year.

It is expected to seek out and identify criminal acts on the Internet as well as coordinate the flow of information both between cantons and internationally.

Swiss efforts have been hampered in the past by a lack of coordination between federal and cantonal authorities.

Interpol has 181 member countries and facilitates information exchange between national police forces.

Interpol's child pornography database, which was set up in August 2001, carries details of about 150,000 perpetrators and victims.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Over 80 experts from around the world are attending the Interpol conference in Thun.
Topics to be discussed include tackling child pornography, sex tourism, child prostitution, trafficking and missing children.

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