28 September 2000


4 Million Youngsters Roam Streets of Russia, Officials Say

NAPLES, Italy, SEPT. 28, 2000 ( Abuse of children in Eastern Europe is not uncommon, say observers in the wake of arrests involving a Russo-Italian pedophilia network.

Eleven people were arrested in a network that used Internet to publish photos and videos of Russian children being sexually and physically abused and even killed.

Father Fortunato Di Noto, parish priest of Avola, in Syracuse, Sicily, and the founder of "Rainbow Telephone," contributed to the investigations, which have been ongoing for a year and a half. For four years the priest and a group of youths from his parish had been monitoring the Internet sites used by pedophiles.

One of the reasons for the exploitation is the situation of many children in Eastern Europe, officials said.

In Russia today, observers said, there are 4 million children on the streets. The children exploited by the criminal network were either on the streets, or kidnapped from Russian orphanages, authorities said. Others have been kidnapped from parents and nannies, in public places like circuses or parks, officials said.

Marco Griffini, president of the Italian Association of International Adoptions, explained the situation of children in former Communist countries.

In Romania, he said, children are crowded into decrepit orphanages established by Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu. Parents with eight or 10 children in the impoverished country sometimes abandon their offspring in these institutions, Griffini said.

In Bulgaria, there are 7-year-olds injecting heroin, he said, while in Albania, girls run to school to avoid being kidnapped and sold for prostitution in the West.

"In the USSR, a child did not belong to the family, which could not even control his education," Griffini said. "The state was in charge of children. Thus, it was common practice for indigent families to leave their children in state centers, committing themselves to return for them when they were 12 or 13, when they were useful for work. Above all, families were concerned with survival; a child was not their primary concern."

When the Communist regime disintegrated, the first thing to disappear were social care expenses, Griffini explained.

"Hence, children are constantly in difficulty in Eastern countries," he noted. "A child isn't a resource but a problem. In this connection, there is no such thing as a culture of respect, or of children's rights."