As Portugal’s increasingly high profile child abuse cases continue to feature in the media worldwide, it has been confirmed that the US State Department recently commissioned a human rights report on the subject. The official dossier highlights Portugal’s record on child abuse and child trafficking and gives special prominence to the Casa Pia scandal.
The 12-page US State Department report contains detailed observations about Casa Pia, the children’s home that has triggered one of Portugal’s most painful bouts of soul-searching. “The paedophilia scandal involves prominent figures in society, the governing party and members of the opposition, as well as President Sampaio, who has publicly criticised investigators for information leaks,” notes the report.
“With regards to the Casa Pia investigation, more than 100 cases were detected of boys and girls who were abused there over the years. After more than 600 interrogations and a report amounting to 13,000 pages, 10 people were accused, among them a prominent politician, society figures and a worker at the institution,” the report adds. The dossier goes on to cite 423 cases of abuse against children in Portugal during the first six months of last year. “The traffic of children, child prostitution and child labour have remained a problem in Portugal. The law punishes those who traffic children under the age of 16 with the aim of sexual exploitation and the exhibition or distribution of pornographic material, for which the judges have applied heavy sentences,” notes the report.
But the State Department dossier concludes that “criminal investigation” in these cases is often difficult, owing to the sophisticated methods used by the criminals. It also notes other disturbing developments, such as Portugal being used as a transit point for African children, especially those from Angola, who are then smuggled to other European countries. Despite the report’s grim findings, Dr Dulce Rocha, a jurist at Lisbon’s National Commission for the Protection of Children and Youth at Risk, told The Resident that she did not necessarily believe child abuse was on the increase. “Paedophilia in Portugal is not rising, but it is now discussed more openly. People are more conscious about human rights, and particularly children’s rights, so the whole topic is becoming more visible,” she said.
Social Security Minister Bagão Felix did not wish to comment on the specifics of the State Department dossier. But he did say that the government has introduced measures to combat the problem of child abuse: “Regarding these past issues, the Casa Pia affair was handed over to the Justice Ministry. In addition, the government has created a National Commission of Child Protection for young people at risk,” he said.
Prison deaths highest in Europe
But it is not only the Portuguese record on child abuse and exploitation that falls under scrutiny. The report also highlights other alarming statistics. In total, 30 per cent of prisoners suffer from Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C and 14 per cent suffer from the HIV virus. A total of 100 died in Portuguese prison cells last year, with 15 committing suicide. These figures are confirmed in another study, which exposed the fact that the mortality rate among prisoners in Portugal is the highest in the European Union. The report says: “Portuguese jails have revealed isolated cases of police brutality, including three specific situations resulting in death.”