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THE bizarre case of Freddy Peats has brought home the stark message: child-sex abuse on a commercial scale is no longer restricted to the sandy shores of Thailand and Sri Lanka.
Even as the state government tried its best to underplay the scandal, the Goa High Court handed down five concurrent life sentences to the 71-year-old Peats. Judge Sundararajan found Peats guilty of unnatural sexual offences, sodomy, procuring children for prostitution, tying up and injecting children, circulating and selling obscene material relating to minor boys and using drugs. Peats also faces a 10-year rigorous imprisonment sentence under the Juvenile Justice Act (for sexual abuse) and various lesser sentences, including one under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act.
Peats had to end a 17-year profession of sexually exploiting young boys under his charge in the 'orphanages' that he ran in the Fatorda suburb of Margao, Goa's commercial capital. Children from these 'orphanages' were sent to service Peats' foreign clients—an activity that carried on till April 1991, when a young neighbour, the son of a mining engineer, complained to his father of pain in the testes after visiting Peats' 'orphanage'.
Nearly five years after he was first arrested, Peats was finally nailed by the evidence provided by seven boys who lodged with him. On searching his flat, the police also found bags containing over 2,000 obscene photographs and two cameras. These photos, some of which have German writing on the reverse, have apparently been taken over many years. One photo shows a calendar dated November 1977. Another shows a boy, now aged 22, at a time when he was six years old. Dozens of photos show sadistic scenes where boys between three and seven were hung naked, sometimes with hands tied by a window-pane and over a steel chair. Other photos show the boys being injected by Peats in the testicles, or being flogged. One seven-year-old boy is seen bound with rope, and his month gagged with a cloth.
The boys were photographed in the act of masturbation and oral sex with an adult, whose face in some photos have been obliterated with ink. One photo shows a naked one-and-a-half year old baby. In some photos the boys are seen crying, their agonised faces turned to the camera. Other photos depict Peats sodomising the boys, undressing and caressing them. Peats' rather incredible explanation is that a "photo-record in the nude" is a great help in the study of the bodily growth of children.
Peats has admitted to taking "one or two" boys into his room at night. He claimed the boys "liked" remaining in a state of undress. Since most of the boys were pre-pubescent, Peats injected their testicles with some chemicals. It is not clear what effect this had, though the injected substance is suspected to have been sex hormones.
One of the abused boys told the court: "While injecting my testicles, Peats told me that he was giving me a jaundice shot." Peats claimed the injections were an alternative treatment to a digestive trouble common among children. Peats would pay the boys Rs 5 after each excruciating injection, and assure them that they would not suffer from jaundice in future. One boy innocently told the judge: "As I was small, I could not understand at that time why Peats was paying me for the check-up, when usually a patient pays the doctor for a check-up."
Many of the abused boys came from broken homes, had alcoholic fathers, or their parents found it too tough to make ends meet. Others lured to Peats' den were philatelists. Peats claimed he derived his income from buying and selling stamps and coins. But detailed probing by child rights activist Shiela Barse showed he was receiving large sums of Deutsch marks, francs, pounds and other currency. In just 27 months, Peats' accounts at two banks received over Rs 2 lakh. Strangely enough, Peats had the reputation of being a respectable man. He had connections with local priests, was a member of the Lions Club, and was seen as a do-gooder, in spite of one of the abused boy's complaining to his mother about him. Even she thought "I was telling a lie since I was very young", said the boy.
Little is known about Peats' activities preceding his appearance in the tourist village of Colva in south Goa in the mid-'70s. While Peats claims to be an Anglo-Indian, and traces his family roots to Calcutta, he could not recall details such as the name of his family graveyard there. Earlier, police said, Peats could not name prominent landmarks of Yangon (Rangoon), where he claimed he had spent part of his life.
As a middleman, Peats allowed gay foreigners to sexually abuse the boys under his care. Two forigners allegedly involved were a Briton, Raymond were a Briton, Raymond, and Owen, a New Zealander. However, local police have failed, inexplicably, to trace them through the foreigners' registry. But other foreign links were exposed. One paedophile sent his 'best regards and love' from Enkhvizen, Holland. Another photo had been processed in Wildbad, West Germany.
According to Peats, the cache of photographs found at his home was part of a collection which began 17 years ago, when he needed money to buy anti-scabies medicines for children. He claims he entered into a deal with a 'foreign professor' who wanted photos of boys posing as 'statues', later scare. Two foreigners allegedly involved were a Briton, Raymond, and Owen, a New Zealander. However, local police have failed, inexplicably, to trace them through trick photography. During the trial, Peats was unwilling to face up to queries about the photographs. To offer protection to his victims, the trial was held in-camera and the victims were not identified. Oddly, some of Peats' early victims became his co-accused. Among the four Goans accused—Alex Faleiro, Jose James Taylor, Roy Rosario Fernandes and Robert Alfonso—one was absconding, possibly in Germany, another died in an unexplained accident while the other two were given the benefit of doubt by the court.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, many successive Goa governments, including that of former chief minister Ravi Naik, have insisted that there was no foreign involvement in the case. While the Goa High Court has directed the CBI to probe the foreign linkages in the case, Barse says it "has done virtually nothing all these months".
The authorities fear adverse repercussions for Goa's booming tourism sector if the foreigner and tourism linkages in this case are uncovered. Top officials and politicians argue that Peats was a rare, individual case.
The spread of child-sex abuse is causing worry, in spite of assurances given by officials. An investigative reporter from British tabloid News of the World claimed to have found two other British paedophiles operating in the Calangute-Candolim beach belt of north Goa, a famous hippie haunt of the '60s. A note of warning was given by the German consul who, on a visit to Goa from Bombay, warned the state that after the recent crackdown in Thailand, paedophiles might be turning to newer international tourist destinations like Goa.