"Children are not sex toys" was the slogan of the White March against paedophile crimes, which took place in eight Swiss cities on Saturday. The organisers accused the government of doing little to combat the problem.This content was published on October 6, 2001 - 18:54
Several thousands of people dressed in white demonstrated silently in the streets of Lausanne, Geneva, Fribourg, Bellinzona, Delémont and Sion. Participants released white balloons, and made moving speeches.
"Switzerland is well behind its neighbours in tracking down paedophiles," said Christine Bussat, head of the organising committee.
"The government's attitude is one indifference: Children and adults are dying because of this lack of action," said her colleague, Jean Streit.
These words demonstrate how emotive the subject of "paedocrime", as the organisers of the Swiss event call it, is. The organisers claim there are up to 30,000 internet sites peddling child pornography, and that some of these sites contain more than 350,000 sickeningly graphic images.
Yet this does not mean paedophilia a growing phenomenon, according to the Federal Police Office. Many of the pictures available on these sites are old, they say, and the internet has merely made the public more aware of a problem that has always existed.
Statistics in Geneva
Nevertheless, the number of people affected is large. A study conducted in Geneva in 1995 showed that 34 per cent of 15-year-old girls and 11 per cent of boys of the same age had been sexually abused. Anecdotal evidence suggests that those who suffer such abuse are more likely to use drugs, attempt suicide and become abusers themselves.
The Swiss protests were modelled on the White Marches held in Belgium in the wake of the scandal surrounding the Marc Dutroux affair. Dutroux, charged with the rape, murder and torture of four young girls, is still awaiting trial some five years after he was arrested.
Christine Bussat, a mother of two, decided to act after seeing a report on paedophilia on a Swiss television current affairs programme.
"You could see raped and murdered on the internet. You don't have to be directly involved to imagine your own child in that situation," she says.
Bussat and her colleagues, who enjoy the backing of national politicians from the left and right, have a list of eight demands for the government. Principal among these is that a special unit at the Federal Police Office devoted to tracking internet crime be reinstated.
The unit, which was staffed by just two officers, was "suspended" two years ago because it could not cope with the flood of complaints from the public.
"Compare that to Bavaria, where they have 30 officers working in this area," says Streit. He complains that the federal government leaves paedophile-related crimes up to the cantons, which do not have the money or staff to tackle the problem effectively, and, on occasions, waste the resources they have by investigating the same crime.
Philippe Kronig, who heads a special task force at the Federal Police Office on cybercrime, told swissinfo that the two-man federal unit was just a pilot project. He said he was hopeful that it would revived next year, with a staff of around 10. This, however, would depend on funding being approved.
This unit would have three principal tasks: dealing with information from the public and disseminating it to the cantons, monitoring the internet for suspicious sites and analysis. It will also be the point of reference for international investigations.
This would meet some of the demands being made by White March Switzerland, but others would be harder to satisfy.
The association would like to see much stiffer sentences for those convicted of child sex abuse, and an end to any statute of limitations on such crimes. It also demands that those working with children must first be vetted to ensure they have not been convicted of committing offences against children.
Legal experts suggest this would not only require changes to Swiss law, but also contravene European human rights conventions.
by Roy Probert
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