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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
South Africa; Denial Won't Make Child Sex Tourism Go Away,

October 18, 2001
Africa News Service (10.17.01) - Thursday, October 18, 2001

"Every now and then an issue comes up that polarizes people and gets labeled controversial," Western Cape social services Director Sharon Florentine said Tuesday at the conference "Sex Tourism, Myth or Reality" in Cape Town, South Africa. "I'm reminded of our reaction to HIV/AIDS. The delay in dealing with it is costing us dearly as it decimates the population, changes family structure and reverses any developmental gains made." Despite calls to acknowledge the problem, the conference has been marred by the decision of high-level government members not to attend. On Tuesday, Deputy Defense Minister Nozizwe Mdlala- Routledge cancelled her appearance as keynote speaker. Five years after the government committed itself to the Stockholm Congress against the commercial sexual exploitation of children, it has still not translated the agenda into action.

Evidence of child prostitution is on any main road in any big city in South Africa. "Child sexual exploitation is an open secret," said Virginia Petersen, superintendent general of social services in the Western Cape. Factors contributing to the increase are growing tourism, fear of HIV, availability of children, the impunity of sex offenders and poverty. "Men who fear diseases, especially HIV, are turning to children in the belief they are less likely to be infected," said researcher Karin Koen.

Joan van Niekerk, chairwoman of Childline South Africa, who also sits on the Law Commission, said it would take more than changes in the law to eliminate child prostitution. "Some significant role-players are absent and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] carry the burden -we struggle to get politicians and government departments involved," she said. "Children orphaned by HIV, from 12 to 16, are supporting their younger siblings and friends through prostitution. There is nothing else for them," van Niekerk said.

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