Ukrainian Police Say Child Victims of Sex Trade Soaring

KIEV, Ukraine -- The number of Ukrainian minors who have become victims of commercial sexual exploitation soared this year, an official said Tuesday.

More than 2,000 Ukrainian children and teenagers have become victims of the sex trade so far this year, a 60-percent increase compared with the same period last year, said Mikhaylo Tsymbaliuk, a top Interior Ministry official. "It is a big tragedy for the state," Tsymbaliuk said at a news conference in Kiev.

The Interior Ministry announced earlier this year that combating human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children would a key priority. It also recently formed a special department tasked with combating human trafficking.

A majority of minors abused by criminals in this former Soviet republic had been forced into the sex tourist industry, child pornography and prostitution, Tsymbaliuk said. "Criminals are making big money from this."

In a report published earlier this year, police researchers claimed that some 20 percent of all Ukrainian prostitutes were teenage girls. They also indicated that 18 percent of homeless children in Ukraine usually became victims of sexual violence. "A mere 10 percent of the runaway children's families are actually trying to find their kids," the document said.

Making the illicit industry more difficult to combat, Tsymbalik said, "the commercial sexual exploitation of children often remains unreported because victims are either scared or intimidated."

Also Tuesday, La Strada, a key international watchdog that fights trafficking of women, claimed that some 8,000 children fell victim to sex exploitation in Ukraine last year. According to the International Organization for Migration, an U.N.-run body, 10 percent of all trafficking victims who return to Ukraine are aged between 12 and 18.

Ukraine gained notoriety as a key starting and transit point for human trafficking because of its porous borders and poor bilateral agreements on borders crossing with neighboring Russia, Moldova and Belarus. The European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [OSCE] have pledged to help Ukrainian police and border guards to improve their effectiveness.

Source: AP