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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

10 Years On after Marc Dutroux, Belgium Still Experiencing Kidnapping Cases, and More on Child-Trafficking/Labour

It will be ten years in August this year that my mind will be cast back to August 1996, the month and year I started university to meet horrible news in the Belgian capital of Brussels: the emaciated bodies of two young girls who had been starved days before they were buried, Julie and Melissa, would be found in the backyard of the huge garden of notorious paedophile Marc Dutroux. I re-call picking up a copy of the UK-based Sunday Times back then from a newspaper stand in Brussels, and Marc Dutroux's picture plasted all over, with the words "Monster".

Thankfully, in 2004, a few weeks before I came back home to Ghana, he would get, I believe, a sentence of 30years-- life sentence for the kidnappings, without possibility of parole.

Ten years later, the recent news of two missing girls in Liege--some thirty minutes drive from Brussels--would come to haunt Belgium. I read with shock that two 7- and 10-yr-old stepsisters are "missing", triggering speculation that they have been abducted. Read the story below:

Police fail to find any
trace of missing girls

13 June 2006

BRUSSELS — Police abandoned their search on Monday for the two girls who went missing in Liège on Saturday morning.

Some 60 police officers searched for the step-sisters Stacy Lemmens, 7, and Nathalie Mahy, 10, in forests, scrub and buildings in the vicinity of the Citadelle hospital.

A helicopter was also deployed to scan the banks of the Maas River, while a search was held in the area around the football field in the Rue des Glacis

The two girls disappeared early on Saturday morning while they were at a funfair with their parents in the Liège district of Saint-Léonard.

The disappearance is a chilly reminder of child killer Marc Dutroux, who

kidnapped two girls in the same region more than a decade ago.

The Liège public prosecutor Anne Bourguignont has now urged the boyfriend of a waitress at the café Aux Armuriers to contact authorities.

The man was in the café until 1.30am on Saturday and has not been seen since. The family of the missing girls was at that same café on Friday night.

Bourguignont did not confirm whether the man is the same person who was released on parole after being convicted for sex crimes and is also being hunted by police.

Meanwhile, Child Focus will spread 30,000 posters of the missing girls via Delhaize supermarkets, chemists, volunteers and public transport companies De Lijn, NMBS-SNCB and the MIVB-STIB.

It is increasingly apparent that the girls are the victim of a kidnapping and have not ran away from home as initially speculated.

Police are still looking for a resident of the Saint-Léonard city district who has been released from jail on parole. The man was sentenced for 15 crimes, including a sex crime against an adult.

Prosecutor Bourguignon will convene a co-ordination meeting of magistrates, investigating judges, police and prosecution officials and Child Focus on Tuesday afternoon.

[Copyright Expatica News 2006]

If you are visiting this blog, and indeed this article, from outside Europe and beyond, you may fail to appreciate the magnitude of the grief anad distress that parents experience when their loved one "disappears", sometimes without a trace. I do not think you have to be a parent to appreciate the pain associated with the unknown whereabouts of your brother or sister, or even friend.

When I hear cases like this, I am reminded about the human condition, and how things are rarely as black-and-white as we like to think. For example, the US may be a great country, but it is also a country with a considerable number of cases of serial killers. What causes that? The FBI, we find from movies, maintains that bed-wetters are potential serial killers.

Not to say that that is not true, but I was a bed-wetter. Does that make me a potential serial-killer?

Belgium, in my many years stay there, was an incredibly interesting country. The people are...unique...for want of a better word. The standard of living is among the best in Europe, yet their biggest bane is nipping in the bud the spate of kidnappings, which are often not for ransom-sake. So, my question, then, is what causes such people to kidnap? Is it sexual depravity? What?

For me, the most disturbing is that after ten years of the Dutroux case, which painted Belgium in a deeply bad light, you would have thought the authorities would have learnt from it. One of the things the US started doing with cases of kidnappings by putting the pictures of those abducted on milk cartons, and while ChildFocus in Belgium, established in 1998 after the Dutroux case plateaued, remains a useful complement (they operate 24/7), it still begs the question whether the Belgian authorities are doing enough?

It is times like these, especially when I think of crime-fighting organisations like the FBI, and their "Investigative Programs
Crimes Against Children"
that I am awakened to the greatness of the USA.

According to the latter website, "Research has indicated that subjects who abduct children typically are not first-time offenders, but are serial offenders who often travel during the commission of multiple sexual offenses against children".

Might the Belgian authorities not take a cue from this? Belgium is right in the heart of Europe with borders all around. Crossing into Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, or France is no mean feat, where a child will be lost forever. Might Belgium not get more serious about how it handles missing cases?

Now, whilst we are on the subject of children, it might interest you to know that 12 June was Child Labour Day. The UN's International Labour Organisation has launched a report that supports the view that child labour is declining. You can glance the stats here.

Having said that, more work evidently needs to be done, especially if you consider these sobering views:

According to the U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report released in June 2003, human trafficking appears to the be on the rise. And this phenomenon touches every single nation, including the United States. The American Government estimates that between 18,000 to 20,000 people are trafficked in the U.S. Human trafficking is crime. And it is one of the worst human rights violations today.

Who are victims of human trafficking? And what are they forced to do? Men, women, boys, and girls, especially those from vulnerable situations, are victims of this international crime. They are trafficked within their countries, usually from poor rural areas to urban centers. They are trafficked across nations through an intricate network. And what happens to these men, women, and children? Many are forced to perform various forms of labor. Women and girls are especially vulnerable as most are forced into commercial sex work. According to the latest report by the International Labor Organization (ILO), approximately 1.2 million children are victims of trafficking.

(...) And in today’s age when the internet provides instant global communication, more children are finding themselves in dangerous and life-threatening situations similar to the ones in this lesson.

The fact that adults ruthlessly exploit children for sexual purposes is an extremely difficult subject for many adolescents. However, raising awareness of this challenging problem is also extremely important as awareness is the first step toward finding an effective solution.

In a cynical move to try to link child abductions to trafficking, you might feel that the link is tenuous. When they say truth is stranger than fiction, they know why: usually, when abductors don't kill their victims, they are often passed on to child-sex prostitution rings, where they are lost in the maelstrom of a more-than-seedy, sordid world, where there is little chance of being found.

According to the Irish Refugee Council Press Release of 25 May (International Missing Children’s Day), which you can read here:

  • While hard evidence is lacking, experience from both Ireland and beyond suggests that there is a strong link between missing children and child trafficking

  • A Swedish case study illustrates the link between vulnerable separated children and trafficking. In 2005, a total of fifty Chinese separated children went missing from accommodation centres in Sweden

  • Some of the children may be trafficked into Ireland for the purpose of sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and other forms of child labour and as such are lured away by traffickers

  • Finally, just some mental pabulum: this story Couple Accused Of Trying To Sell Children In Tijuana about the US couple that sold and took cash for their 18-month-old daughter and 3-year-old son.

    Let's take care of our children, for God's sake!


    At Monday, June 19, 2006 11:21:00 am , Blogger Steph said...

    Hey, Emmanuel, congrats on a great game with the Czech republic. Looking forward to more like that, you have a good and strong team!


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