HC Deb 14 July 1998 vol 316 c175
4. Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

What reports he has received on the killing of street children in Brazil. [48704]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd)

I receive regular updates on the subject of street children, and have raised the matter directly with the Brazilian authorities on a number of occasions, most recently on 7 July.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I take it that the Minister will share my concern about the apparent further eruption of shooting of street children. Is he aware of the fear of those who work among them that some of it is being carried out by off-duty police officers, and does he know whether the authorities have taken action against those officers?

Mr. Lloyd

As I said, I have raised the issue with the national secretary for human rights, Dr. Gregori, who was in Britain last week. He has told me, on that and other occasions, that one of the first actions of the secretariat for human rights when it was established in 1997 was to study the role of the military police, and in particular their responsibility for the killing of street children.

That is a positive step, but there is no doubt that the climate of impunity in Brazil has in the past allowed the perpetrators of those atrocities to feel that they can continue without any real threat of sanctions. We are actively considering how we can help the Brazilian police with a witness protection scheme. Such a scheme would at least allow those who witness such heinous crimes to play a proper part in ensuring that the guilty are brought before the courts and, hopefully, given exemplary sentences that will lead to a proper sense of justice.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

Is the Minister aware that, in a recent parliamentary answer, the Secretary of State for International Development said that 250 million children in this world of ours—that is an astonishing figure—work for wages or act as pickpockets or prostitutes? Is he further aware that, during their time in government, the Conservatives consistently and continually opposed reference of such child labour issues to the World Trade Organisation? Does he agree with me that that places them firmly in the camp of the exploiters, and not on the side of the exploited?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend is right to say that failing to protect children and to provide a proper legal framework nationally and internationally is not acceptable. Those who were responsible for such matters should seriously examine how that was allowed to happen. However, that contrasts with the role that the present Government have played. My hon. Friend will probably be aware that the Secretary of State has been instrumental in ensuring that the issue of child prostitution has been kept at the top of the agenda internationally. Those discussions will be taken forward yet again this year with a view to ensuring that those who commit the crime of abusing young children through prostitution are brought to justice in this country, and globally.