by Tran Dinh Thanh Lam
(IPS) HO CHI MINH CITY -- The recent arrests of former British pop singer Gary Glitter and a German tourist on child-abuse charges have raised concerns that Vietnam is turning into a pedophile hot spot.
Speculating on the whereabouts of Glitter before his Nov. 25 arrest, an international newspaper suggested that he could be holing up in Vietnam and had perhaps died of bird flu.
It turned out that the singer has been sneaking in and out of Vietnam as a tourist, but did not suffer anything worse than arrest and detention in police custody for three months.
Gary Glitter was famous in the late 1970s for such hits as "I'm the Leader of the Gang" and "Do You Wanna Touch Me," but after being jailed in 1999 for possessing more than 4,000 pornographic photos and videos of children, his fan following faded away. He now spends time touring developing countries like Vietnam.
This year, when the former British rocker slipped into Vietnam, it was the third time since 2002. He was arrested on specific charges of child abuse, including that of three underage girls -- one of them only 11.
Earlier in the year, police also arrested a German tourist, Waga Nils Carsten, accused of abusing some boys at a hotel in the central beach city of Nha Trang.
"There is credible evidence to suggest that foreign, child-sex tourists have been increasingly active in Vietnam," Tran Thi Doan, a social worker at HCM City's Women's Association told IPS.
Authorities blame capitalism and the influx of tourists, which they say have severely warped the economy and led to widespread corruption. Local police officials are easily bribed, and it is not too hard for pedophile gangs, flushed out from adjacent Thailand and Cambodia, to shift base to Vietnam.
There are also signs of a booming sex industry with teenagers increasingly turning to sex work. "That is the reason why underground foreign pedophile rings are beginning to tout the country as the next (sex tourism) destination," Doan added.
Child abuse is not new in Vietnam. Doan, who was part of a 12-week Australian government-funded program in 1999 to "End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT)," said "there is recognition that child sex tourism has already been a problem in Vietnam.
"Already in 1999, Australian Federal Police based in Bangkok warned that known Australian pedophiles had been traveling to and operating in Vietnam," Doan recalled.
Australian experts then reported that foreign females had abused underage boys at the ancient city of Hoi An, and that in the northern mountain resort of Sapa, young girls from the Hmong ethnic minority were abused by foreign tourists.
"Only civil societies can help minimize the scourge," Doan said. She added that Gary Glitter was spotted by people in Vung Tau, while Waga Nils Carsten's victims reported him to Nha Trang police.
Glitter arrived in the southern seaside city of Vung Tau in March 2005. He was spotted while performing at The Labyrinth, a local bar frequented by foreign tourists.
The pedophile pop singer escaped but was nabbed while trying to flee to Bangkok.
"Civil awareness also helped in the case of Waga Nils Carston in Nha Trang," Doan said.
When Kimmy Le, a Canadian of Vietnamese origin, in 1996 opened her bar Crazy Kim's on Nha Trang Beach, she immediately noticed the presence of foreign pedophiles. Her response was to get beach children to wear T-shirts that said: "Child sex is a crime."
"Sex tourists could download lists of available local children from a Web address. They could also 'adopt' children, paying their families 5,000 or 6,000 U.S. dollars," Kimmy said, adding that some of the poor children were later dumped miles away from home. To survive, many of these children took to crime and prostitution.
Four of these abandoned children allegedly were lured to a hotel in Nha Trang by Carston. But one of the boys who had participated in Kimmy Le's campaign reported Waga to the police.
The 44-year-old Carston managed to flee to Cambodia, where he used false papers to get back to Germany. But Nha Trang police had seized a camera they said Waga used to record his activity with the children.
The films have been handed over to German police and charges are being pursued against Waga there.
Like Glitter, who was expelled from Cambodia for child abuse in December 2002, Carston was arrested in January 2004 in Sri Lanka for the same crime.
December 7, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.