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A market in Marrakesh
A market in Marrakesh
Ariane Chemin

MARRAKESH - In the French Quarter of Gueliz, past the trendy Café de la Poste, you need only walk down the street to see the soliciting for yourself.

In this very European neighborhood, where youths gather around the McDonald's, it is more visible than in the infamous Djemaa El-Fna Square, in Marrakesh’s old town. Here, the children themselves proposition passersby.

A 4x4 pulls up and someone inside asks one of the kids to go out for "lunch" or "dinner." Without hesitating, it is a yes. No questions asked, no illusions. The fee is at most a few hundred dirhams (less than 100 euros).

Marrakesh has long been a haven for pedophiles looking for young boys. The "Ocher City" has always tolerated these rich Westerners, who pose as art patrons or benefactors, a tired cliché.

But since the 2004 Thailand tsunami, more and more of the patrons of sex tourism have deserted Bangkok, and made Marrakesh their destination of choice. This rise of sex tourism in the city has led to the creation of an NGO, Hands Off My Child (Touche pas à mon enfant).

"Marrakesh does not want to become a second Bangkok, and authorities are finally realizing that we can no longer endlessly protect the Europeans who come here to abuse children," an observer notes.

"We are definitely noticing a change in attitudes," confirms Najat Anwar, president of the organization. As proof, she cites numerous examples. In 2004, when the organization was in its early days, "a tourist was arrested in flagrante for pedophilia, but walked out of prison after simply paying a fine," Anwar remembers.

However, six years later, in a seaside port close to the Moroccan town of Rabat, "a Spanish pensioner was arrested for filming and abusing very young girls and boys. He was tried and condemned to 30 years in prison."

Islamists are aware

Nevertheless, the plague persists, and Mohamed Errachdi, the organization's legal advisor, is not optimistic. "We don't have the logistics. In a country where 60% of the economy is controlled by French companies, we can't do much more than shout and scream."

In May 2011, after Luc Ferry, a former French Education Minister, accused a "former minister" of abusing young boys during a Moroccan stay, Errachdi filed complaints in Marrakesh and in Paris to fight against this political "omertà."

It has also been difficult to get victims to speak up against the abuse. Their families are keeping them quiet, fearing that their sons will become social pariahs. In Morocco, homosexuality is heavily suppressed.

Seven years ago, a French real estate agent in Marrakesh, Hervé L. G. was caught red-handed filming minors in his home. A young boy, Imad, helped the Moroccan police, as well as Le Monde reporters, to track down the suspect. A few weeks later, Imad was found either hanged or strangled to death. "After having appealed, the French real estate agent had his four-year prison sentence reduced to two years, and then he was pardoned," Errachdi says.

Anwar says awareness is growing in Marrakesh, and Moroccan authorities have also started to react.

Another source of pressure is the country’s Islamists, who are fighting against this "imported evil" from the West. On September 14, in the midst of the anti-Islam film affair, the daily newspaper Nouvelles du Jour ran the story of protests against the American embassies on the front page. And just underneath the photos was another story of pedophilia implicating a "Frenchman."

"The subliminal message was clear," sighs an observer. "The Westerners sullied our prophet and are defiling our children."

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