Goa lets paedophile tourists off the hook


Armstrong Vaz and Rupa Sudra

undefinedAn internationally popular Indian luxury holiday destination is increasingly gaining notoriety as a magnet for foreigners who commit child abuse while the authorities look the other way.

And experts says the paedophile problem on the beautiful island of Goa is worsening, with increased tourism and the impoverished population desperate for work in the former Portuguese-run state. Chief Minister of Goa, Pratapsingh Rane, has proposed a moral code of conduct for foreign tourists. This would be yet another step the state would be taking to curb the growing menace of tourists sexually exploiting children. Foreign governments, keen to crack down on paedophiles, have put Goa's state government under the intense pressure to bring the culprits to justice.

In 2003, the a tough law was passed to deal with the growing menace and a year later a children's court was set up to stamp out paedophilia in the state. But neither method has been very successful. So far only three foreign tourists have being tried under the new act, with all them acquitted due to an alleged  'lack of evidence'.

Paedophilia first hit the Goan headlines in 1991 when tourist Freddy Peats was arrested. Peats's conviction for child abuse was largely due to the relentless work of Mumbai-based legal jurist Sheila Bharse. If it had not been for her the case would have ended as yet another of the numerous acquittals. It is still the only case where the state courts have jailed a paedophile.

Goa has been quite indifferent to the sex crimes committed by tourists on children aged as young as eight and allowed the the foreign perpetrators to escape punish for fear of damaging the lucrative tourism industry. Many incidents go unreported. And when they do come to public notice the police usually goes soft on the paedophiles. In March 2001, John Colin Middleton, a 71-year-old Briton, was arrested at a guest house in Benaulim in south Goa. He was found with three children he had brought with him from Nepal.

A check of Middleton's criminal record revealed that he had served a sentence for a previous conviction for sodomy with a child in New Zealand. Yet, a week after his arrest, he was released on bail, his passport was returned to him and the case was declared 'closed'. Middleton's past conviction for paedophilia was completely overlooked by the police.

Most of the paedophiles who visit Goa play the role of a benevolent white-skinned foreigner to the hilt. They lure  'beach children' with expensive goods and money and buy gifts for their families, as part of the grooming process.

Some of the paedophiles lure the children to holiday shacks for food, beer or alcoholic drinks. Some children are attracted by fancy cars and motorcycles that these foreigners dangled before them. Many children work selling craft goods and edible produce in shacks on the beach and that is often how they first meet the tourists. A number of impoverished families from the nomadic Lamani tribe, as well as from villages in northern Karnataka, are engaged in vending wares on the beach.

Goa police decided to carry out a comprehensive study to understand  'what lures these nomads to Goa'. One of their observations was that the Lamani children are very vulnerable for exploitation  — sexually and otherwise  — as a result of the human trafficking some of them had been through.

The 2004 Trafficking in Persons report released by the US State Department points out that India is a major source and destination of the trafficking of women and children. A European study shows there is a deep connection between trafficking of children and paedophilia. Zarbitter, a German counselling centre based in Cologne, made the shocking revelation that German paedophiles marry young girls in Asian countries and then adopt the children in order to sexually abuse them. Another ploy employed by paedophiles is to adopt street children or others from broken Indian families.

According to Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA) guidelines drafted by India's Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, a single male foreigner cannot adopt a child to start with. In any case, adoptions have to be certified through a court order. While the fate of the boy, lured with promise of an overseas jobs, hangs in the balance it remains to be seen what happens to the fate of another British national behind bars. Hopefully his case will not end in acquittal, with another highly questionable slip up in the police investigation.