The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed (IRIN).
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that one million children around the world enter the sex trade every year, the majority of them girls. The International Labour Organization’s figures from 2000 indicated that 1.8 million children were being exploited in prostitution and pornography worldwide, with girls representing 80 percent to 90 percent of the victims in most countries. Other estimates have put the number of children engaged in sex work significantly higher, closer to 10 million.
Global approximations such as these are really nothing more than educated guesses. The clandestine nature of commercial sexual exploitation, coupled with the fact that many of the world’s sexually exploited children exist in society’s blind spot, meaning that untold numbers of these children – the majority of whom are poor, uneducated, homeless and rejected by society – will never be captured in any statistic. These are just three of their stories:
“Rachel”, a 12-year-old who worked in a local cigarette factory, was taken to Italy and forced to work as a prostitute by her 29-year-old husband three months after they married. If she refused to sell herself on the streets, he beat her. “I worked morning to night every day,” said Rachel, who serviced as many as 10 clients daily to earn the US $250 that her pimping husband demanded of her.
“Sarah”, from the United States, was 10 years old when she was sexually molested live on camera by her friend’s father. The camera was connected to his computer, which allowed him to take simultaneous instructions from members of an Internet-based pedophile club about how to molest her. He later traded the images on the Internet.
“Saida”, a Kenyan, dropped out of school when she was 15 to take care of her sick mother. After her mother died, Saida began cooking and selling beans to help support her siblings. Once, when the family had no food, Saida agreed to have sex with the young man in her neighborhood, with the understanding that he would give her money in return. According to Saida, “He gave me 300 to 500 shillings [approximately $4 to $7] when I slept with him, and this helped. But I worried about diseases since I knew he was sleeping with other women.
Rachel, Sarah, and Saida are among the lucky few managed to extricate themselves from a cycle of abuse. Rachel was rescued by an antitrafficking organization and returned to her family in Albania. She later received financial aid to enroll in a vocational-training programme. Sarah, after initially denying that she had been molested by her friend’s father, disclosed the abuse with the support of her mother. Her testimony in turn assisted the police in sending the perpetrator to jail and led to the first major international police effort to apprehend Internet pedophiles. Women in her community told Saida about a local program to help girls who are either at risk of entering or already engaging in commercial sex work. Through that project, she plans to take a hairdressing course and to get her three younger sisters back into school.
Most sexually exploited children are not as fortunate. Thea Pembroek was six years old when she died of a cocaine overdose while being filmed for one of the many pornographic videos in which she was forced to feature. Few people know of her tragic life and death: “She seems to have been treated in death as little more than the object she had been in life.”