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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Conference Urges War On Child Sex Crimes

STOCKHOLM -- The first global effort to combat child prostitution and pornography opened Tuesday with Sweden's prime minister urging delegates from 130 countries to turn their words into deeds against the exploitation of children.

Some 1,000 participants at the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children will address many of the forces that have driven children into the sex trade, and draft proposals for action during the five-day meeting.

The conference, being held as a child-sex scandal in Belgium triggered a Europe-wide alert for pedophile gangs, ends Saturday.

UNICEF, one of the main participants in the conference organized by the Swedish government, estimates that 1 million children a year are forced into child prostitution, trafficked and sold for sexual purposes, or used in producing pornography.

The head of the U.N. children's organization said the abuse of children had become a multi-billion-dollar global industry.

"To abuse our children is to abuse our future,'' said Goeran Persson, the Swedish leader. "We must go from words to deeds by developing strategies to fight these intolerable acts.''

Exploitation is worst in parts of Asia, especially Thailand and the Philippines, as well as in Africa and India. Eastern Europe, still jolted by the fall of communism, is also facing a growing problem.

Though far away from the squalor of brothels filled with pre-teens, delegates sought to send a message on the urgency of protecting the most vulnerable members of society.

The congress opened in the presence of Sweden's Queen Silvia and cabinet ministers from several countries, including Germany's Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel.

Kinkel, delivering his address in English, urged more international cooperation. He said the Bonn government was examining whether federal police officers active in German embassies in various countries could also help in curbing sexual abuse of minors.

"This cesspool must be cleaned up,'' Kinkel said of the commercial exploitation of children. "Children are not commodities but rather the most valuable assets of a civilized world.''

Even though increasing prosperity in many countries might be expected to reduce the number of children who are driven into prostitution by economic need, organizers say the opposite also has been true.

They say those left behind by the new prosperity feel envy and desperation that make them more inclined to turn over their children to brothel operators. Developments in communications, especially the sprawling Internet, also offer easier ways for people seeking sex with children to consult with and advise each other.