SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chile will investigate 61 schools in the country's capital for possible child sex abuse, the attorney general said Friday in the latest government step to address a sharp rise in reports of such crimes.
Attorney general Sabas Chahuan said his office will look at 49 schools in eastern Santiago and 12 on city's west side. Several teachers have recently been accused of sexually molesting children at schools in affluent neighborhoods in the eastern portion of Santiago.
Reports of sexual abuse of children under age of 14 jumped 22 percent in the first half of the year from the same period in 2011, according to official estimates.
"Wherever there are children, we will investigate just the same as we do with corruption or economic crimes," Chahuan said after meeting with representatives of a parents association. "We put ourselves in the place of the parents and we know they're worried, anxious and desperate."
The government banned convicted pedophiles from working near children last month under a new law that also requires those convicted of sexually abusing minors or of child pornography to be registered in a database.
On Wednesday, President Sebastian Pinera announced stiffer punishments for people who distribute child pornography, and he said Chile will toughen penalties on convicted pedophiles, increase the forensic institute budget and create a children's ombudsman to protect their rights.
Pinera also urged lawmakers to review and fast-track about 100 bills before Congress that could protect children against sexual abuse. Under new measures, young sex abuse victims will need only to provide a video-recorded statement once so they can avoid the stress of repeatedly having to retell their painful episodes.
The president said the sex offender database would be fully working starting in August.
Chile is one of South America's most strongly conservative nations in social matters. The Roman Catholic Church retains a firm influence in society, although in recent years it has hit by scandals in which priests have been accused of molesting children.
In 2010, four men alleged they were abused by one of Chile's most revered priests at his residence at the Sacred Heart of Jesus church in a rich Santiago neighborhood. They said the abuse by the Rev. Fernando Karadima began about 20 years ago when they were between 14 and 17 years old.
The Vatican sanctioned Karadima, ordering him to conduct a life of "penitence and prayer," but there was no legal punishment. A Chilean judge determined the abuse allegations against the priest were truthful, but said she had to dismiss a criminal case because the statute of limitations had expired.