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"A penny for your thoughts"

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Portugal shamed by child sex

12 October 2003
The issue has dominated Portuguese headlines since last November, when a newspaper published allegations of long-running abuse of children at the string of state-funded orphanages and schools run by the 200-year-old Casa Pia foundation. As fresh revelations emerged, a former secretary of state for the family spoke of a “network” that procured children for outsiders.

Carlos Silvino, the Casa Pia driver alleged to be at the centre of the ring, was arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing pupils. He has been charged on 35 counts of abuse, with prosecutors considering further charges.

As police continued investigations a dozen suspects were formally named, seven of whom were arrested and taken to prison to await charges. Among them were Paulo Pedroso, an MP and number two in the opposition Socialist Party; Carlos Cruz, one of Portugal’s most popular television journalists and retired ambassador Jorge Ritto.

Meanwhile, details of the horrific scale of the abuse emerged. Pedro Namora, a 39-year-old lawyer who said he narrowly escaped being abused by Silvino at the age of 11 , was deluged with phone calls from victims, after he went on television to denounce him. “People were calling in even from abroad, often only when their family was out because of the shame,” he said. “One in particular would just cry and cry.”

Casa Pia director Catalina Pestana, who took over after the scandal broke, says doctors found more than a hundred of the 4500 current pupils had been repeatedly sexual abused, most aged between 10 and 13. In many cases, she adds, their muscle and tissue were so damaged that they suffered internal injuries.

The Casa Pia affair has had one major positive effect in hugely raising public awareness about the sexual abuse of children. The number of incidents reported to police has soared, and last month thousands marched through Lisbon and three other Portuguese cities, calling for more action against child abuse .

Mr. Rodrigues is currently fighting off a paedophile scandal, following the arrest of Socialist MP Paulo Pedroso and claims, in some newspapers that the PS leader has also been accused of limited involvement.

October 25, 2007
Portugal reeling over child sex abuse scandal
By Elizabeth Nash in Lisbon

16 June 2003

The opposition socialists, until now ahead of Portugal's ruling conservative Popular Social Democrats in opinion polls, are in shock after learning some of their senior MPs may be involved in scandal over sex abuse of boys in a state orphanage.

The senior socialist MP Paulo Pedroso, number two in the party and a former labour minister, was taken from parliament by police and held for investigation three weeks ago on 15 counts of suspected child-sex abuse. Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, the party leader, who is not accused of involvement, testified in court last week, and the former prime minister Antonio Guterres, who is also not under suspicion, visited him in jail to show support.

The abuse accusations centre on Casa Pia, an austere building in a leafy Lisbon neighbourhood, home to children without families, or with parents too poor to care for them. Claims that boys suffered decades of sexual abuse while the authorities did nothing has thrown Portugal into deep shock.

"This is a black moment for us," the veteran commentator Mario Mesquita, a columnist for Publico newspaper, says. "It marks the beginning of a long crisis that's poisoning political life and undermining confidence in our leaders. People were at first incredulous, and are now morbidly pessimistic. This drama shows our dark side, and it's all played out on television, which whips up the frenzy."

Antonio Mega Ferreira, editor of Visao news magazine, says: "I cannot recall, during 25 years of democracy, experiencing such a turbulent, fragile, demoralising, anxious time as we're going through now."

A former home employee, Carlos Silvino, known as Bibi, was detained last autumn accused of abusing children in his care and supplying them for sex to socialites. Among those held on suspicion of abuse are Casa Pia's former director, its doctor, Portugal's favourite television host, a top comedian and a senior diplomat.

Proceedings are still in the investigative stage, with seven suspects detained. More detentions are expected before the trial in September. Adolescents have claimed on television they were offered sweets, ice creams and visits to football matches, then were raped in lavatories or corridors, and recruited for sex parties with powerful "friends". Others, now adult, have told of chilling experiences long suppressed.

Casa Pia came under scrutiny 20 years ago when a young inmate died. He apparently threw himself under a train after running from a car. Officials found the home's doors open all night and youngsters in a cruising area for male prostitutes.

Four children aged between eight and 12, missing for a fortnight, were found in a luxury flat in nearby Cascais owned by a diplomat. They said Mr Silvino had taken them there.

Teresa Costa Macedo, who was the Secretary of State for Family Affairs at the time, ordered a legal investigation that dragged on until it was finally shelved. Mr Silvino was expelled from Casa Pia, then reinstated with back pay in the Nineties.

Rosa Ruela, of Visao, says: "Orphans were considered worthless in Portuguese society then. Child sex abuse was a minor offence, comparable to joyriding. The children were frightened and alone, an easy target. No one took notice of what they said."

Only in the Nineties did Portugal make sex with under-14s a crime punishable by jail; for minors between 14 and 16 the penalty remains a fine. Last September, the mother of an inmate accused Mr Silvino of sexually abusing her son. He was detained in November but insists he is innocent. Last week he indicated he might turn state witness and implicate influential "friends".

In February, counsellors who questioned more than 600 children in Casa Pia found 128 had been abused.

Pedro Strecht, a child psychologist, said "Many wouldn't speak, for fear or shame. We are trained to recognise if children are exaggerating or inventing stories. The testimonies we have heard demonstrate the magnitude of the tragedy."

Portugal's elite linked to paedophile ring

Abuse was reportedly going on at Lisbon orphanage for 20 years

Giles Tremlett in Lisbon
Wednesday November 27, 2002
The Guardian

A scandal over a paedophile ring run from a state orphanage gripped Portugal yesterday as it threatened to engulf diplomats, media personalities and senior politicians.

Photographs of unnamed senior government officials with young boys from Lisbon's Casa Pia orphanage were among the evidence reportedly available to police after they arrested a former orphanage employee called Carlos Silvino.

A number of former residents, and the mother of one boy who is still there, have denounced sexual attacks on children at what is known as Lisbon's most famous orphanage.

Mr Silvino, it was claimed, abused children himself and procured boys for a powerful group of clients.

He has publicly denied the allegations and was expected to repeat that denial at a closed-door bail hearing in Lisbon yesterday.

What has most shocked the Portuguese have been the revelations that systematic sexual abuse of children at the home had allegedly been going on for more than 20 years and had been known to police and other authorities for most of that time.

A former president, General Ramalho Eanes, was allegedly among those who knew about abuse at the home but failed to stop it.

The identity of the mysterious group of powerful paedophiles remained a secret yesterday, with only one person prepared to admit she knew at least some of the names.

Former secretary of state for families, Teresa Costa Macedo, said she had sent a dossier containing photographs and testimonies from children to the police 20 years ago but they had done nothing about it, while she was subjected to a campaign of threats.

"He [Silvino] was just one element in a huge paedophile network that involved important people in our country," Mrs Costa Macedo explained in a newspaper interview. "It wasn't just him. He was a procurer of children for well-known people who range from diplomats and politicians to people linked to the media."

The material sent to the police, which yesterday appeared to have been lost, was damning proof of the activities of the paedophile ring, Mrs Costa Macedo said.

"There are photographs, an account of the methods used to spirit children out of the orphanage and testimonies of a number of children," she explained.

Mrs Costa Macedo said that many of the photographs were found at the house of a Portuguese diplomat in the town of Estoril, 20 miles from Lisbon. Four children who had gone missing from the orphanage were discovered at the house, where they had spent several days allegedly under lock and key.

President Eanes was introduced to five boys who told him of the abuse occurring at the orphanage in 1980 but failed to act on it, according to Mrs Costa Macedo.

There was no suggestion that General Eanes, a popular and respected figure who did not comment on the allegations yesterday, was involved in the paedophile ring.

Portuguese police insisted yesterday they had no record of the documents sent to them by Mrs Costa Macedo.

She said she had been the target of a campaign of intimidation to make her stop investigating the case.

"I received anonymous threats, by phone and post. They said they would kill me, flay me and a lot of other things," she said.

That campaign had started again yesterday, she said, with threatening phone calls made to her home.

Portugal has increasingly been under the scrutiny of anti-paedophile groups who have denounced its lax laws and uninterested courts for creating a paedophiles' paradise in Europe.

Belgian and Dutch paedophile groups are reported to have operated in Portugal, with foreigners travelling to the island of Madeira to seek out young children.

Investigators from the Swiss-based Innocence in Danger group, which claims children regularly disappear from the poorer streets of Portuguese towns and cities, say they too have been harassed and threatened.

Mr Silvino claimed his accusers were making up their allegations. "It is all lies," he said.

The orphanage's director and deputy director were sacked on Monday as the government pledged to clear up the case as soon as possible.

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