Is Morocco the Latest Haven for European Paedophiles?
Last month, the Moroccan king pardoned a man sentenced to 30 years for raping 11 children.
Daniel Fino Galvan, the convicted paedophile who was pardoned by the king of Morocco. (Police handout)
When convicted Spanish paedophile Daniel Fino Galvan was pardoned by the Moroccan king last month, ferocious protests erupted all over the country. The child molester – who had only served a year and a half of his 30-year sentence for raping 11 children in the north African country – was among the 48 Spanish citizens released from Moroccan jails on the request of Spanish King Juan Carlos during his recent official visit.
After widespread outrage from the Moroccan public – and after their protests had been cleared by police with bats – the king revoked the pardon and, days later, Galvan was rearrested in Spain. There is no precedent of Moroccans disagreeing with a royal decision and the events have shaken the authorities, dredging up a long-standing mistrust between the country's monarchy and elected officials, neither of whom wanted to take responsibility for Galvan’s release.
The king is claiming he had no idea of Galvan's crimes and would have never pardoned him had he been aware. Which might seem like a bulletproof defence to King Mohammed, but actually almost makes things worse; how can a population support a king who carelessly releases paedophiles from incarceration without even checking their crimes, before brazenly shifting the blame? The Chief of Prisons, sacked in response to the protests, is widely seen as a scapegoat, but I'm assuming that vindication doesn't exactly validate the fact that he lost his job for somebody else's mistake.
Graffiti in Morocco that reads, "Mohamed VI, murderer, Spanish accomplice." (Photo via)
Depressingly, Galvan's is not a unique case. Just over a month before his early release, a British man was arrested in Tetouan, northern Morocco, after abducting a six-year-old girl; a month before that, a 60-year-old French man was sentenced to 12 years in a Casablanca prison for sexually abusing a number of young children. Reports surrounding both those cases painted Morocco as a paedophile haven, being much easier to access from Europe (it's the only place Ryanair flies to outside of Europe) than southeast Asia's child abuse holiday destinations and populated by disadvantaged children – an easy target for paedophile tourists.
Morocco has been the world's blind spot for decades. Despite pretty stringent laws against homosexuality, it was the favoured getaway location for high profile gay men before western Europe began to relax its stance on same-sex relationships; sex change operations were taking place in Morocco before countries in Europe legalised them and the prevalence of hash on the country's streets is a cliche based firmly in fact.
Unfortunately, for all the benefits of its relatively lax authority, that freedom allows other notably more abhorrent freedoms to slip through, angering Moroccans, who first protested in Casablanca in May for better protection of children and then much more heatedly in the days following Galvan's release.
A demonstration in front of Moroccan embassy in Brussels after the Moroccan king pardoned Galvan. (Photo via)
At his original trial, the judge asked Galvan why he came to Morocco to abuse children. Galvan replied, “Because it’s cheap and, with money, you can get anything you want.” Galvan’s crude response has been echoed by a number of the people I contacted.
I asked Bhati Patel, CEO of ECPAT UK, an organisation working to stop children being sexually exploited and trafficked, why Morocco was suffering so much. She told me that "poverty is high [in Morocco], inequality is high and they see that the government is not playing its part in protecting children […] they look for regions where they know that they can get away with this action and there is easily available access to children".
There are a couple of things that make tackling the problem difficult. Firstly, there’s no knowing who these paedophiles could be; as Patel explained to me, "There isn’t a single profile of who the paedophile is – it could be anyone. It could be a politician, it could be a local person travelling abroad, because travel has become quite cheap now. There isn’t a single profiling characteristic.” Patel's mention to politicians is a reference to the French government minister who was accused a few years ago of having orgies with underage boys in Marrakech.
Najat Anwar, Chair of the Touche Pas à Mon Enfant association.
Secondly, there are almost no statistics on the subject. I got in contact with Najat Anwar, Chair of the Touche Pas à Mon Enfant (Don't Touch My Child) association. "The official statistics on paedo-tourism are basically non-existent," she told me. "A few years ago, we could give the public some statistics about the year, but those were based solely on the complaints received by our organisation. It’s because of this that the observation of children has such an essential role to play in the calculation and diffusion of statistics, but hits insurmountable legal obstacles and therefore we can only count the declared cases of paedophilia, which remain an insignificantly small proportion of the total."
Touche Pas à Mon Enfant were an integral part of the original Casablanca protests in May. I asked Najat what she thought of the recent protests over Galvan’s release; "If it’s as much of an awakening as we think it is, it has been wonderful," she answered. "The popular abhorrence towards this freeing has made Moroccans feel that a grave danger threatens their children. We simply hope this mobilisation will be long-lasting rather than an ephemeral spark."
And what were her thoughts on the Galvan release? "I must first remind you that, as the organisation Touche Pas à Mon Enfant – active for more than ten years in this area – we’ve been traumatised many times and have denounced dozens of Galvans of all nationalities, French, German, Danish and many more."
The mixture of Morocco’s close proximity to Europe, the in-expense of getting there, the poverty in rural areas and the authorities' tendency to turn a blind eye has left Morocco with a serious problem – one that will especially affect children from poorer backgrounds, often forgotten in the financially segregated region.
Though there are a few growing organisations like Touche Pas à Mon Enfant, which is composed mainly of parents taking matters into their own hands, the authorities have a long way to go to tackle the poverty, lack of enforcement and corruption that have left Morocco’s children so vulnerable.
As Najat told me, "There’s still a lot to be done for the child victims of this dirty tourism, and we have hope, we have a dream. I hope this popular awakening through the Galvan case will make other potential foreign paedophiles think twice. The dream is for our country to be visited for its beaches and its mountains, not for its children."
Follow James on Twitter: @duckytennent
More stories about paedophilia: