It will become an epidemic, says Suzanne Mubarak

PARIS: Police must cooperate across borders to keep children safe from child abusers and Internet pornographers, said U.S. First Lady Laura Bush on Wednesday at a Paris conference on missing and exploited children.

French First Lady Bernadette Chirac hosted the one-day conference at the Elysee Palace, which brought together First Ladies including Suzanne Mubarak of Egypt and Lyudmila Putin of Russia, as well as Queen Silvia of Sweden and Queen Paola of Belgium.

Mrs. Bush briefed participants on efforts to fight the problem in the United States, such as the Amber Alert system mobilising TV, radio and highway signs to get word out whenever a child goes missing. ``So far, Amber Alerts have saved more than 300 young lives in the United States, and similar programmes are now saving lives in countries across the globe, including France,'' she said. France's new system, modelled on the U.S. alerts, allowed authorities to track down three missing children last week.

Hotline number

The women proposed that the system be extended throughout the European Union, so all its member nations are alerted when a child goes missing.

The European Union is working to set up a common hotline number 116.000 to report cases of children gone missing, and officials hope it will be operational by the summer.

Mrs. Bush said the U.S. alert system had helped increase the percentage of children found after going missing to 94 per cent today, compared to 62 per cent in 1990. Mrs. Bush also urged international cooperation on online child pornography. She cited the case of a police officer in Denmark who found child pornography online and alerted Interpol. Eventually, the FBI traced images of the abused girl to North Carolina, and the relative who hurt her is serving a 100-year sentence.

The relative had 1,75,000 images in his computer, and police used them to track down child abusers in South Carolina, Texas and Britain. ``Because one person in Denmark tipped off Interpol, four children in the United States were saved,'' Mrs. Bush said.

The conference was a meeting of the honorary board of directors of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children, based in Alexandria, Virginia. ``This is a global phenomenon, and if we do nothing, it will become a huge epidemic,'' Mrs. Mubarak said. Experts estimate more than 1,00,000 websites feature paedophilia.

Other participants in the conference included Nobel Prize-winning writer Elie Wiesel, who spoke of society's responsibility to protect children, as well as Ronald Noble, secretary general of Interpol. AP