Child Prostitution

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed.”: 

“Child prostitution in the contemporary world

In 1998, the Economist estimated that the global sex industry generates $20 billion each year, one-quarter of which is the result of child prostitution. Many countries “have come to depend on the sale of women’s and children’s services almost like a cash crop.” The highest numbers of prostituted children – some as young as 10 years of age – are thought to be in Brazil, India, China, Thailand and the United States, but the child sex trade is an international problem.

Most child prostitutes are integrated into mainstream prostitution markets. They generally are not targeted by abusers because of their young age. There are exceptions, however. Pedophilia is one. Another is the increasing demand in prostitution markets for “virgins”. Young girls are sold over and over again – by pimps, brothel owners, within strip clubs, etc. – under the false pretence of being free from sexually transmitted diseases by virtue of their “virgin” status. Yet another exception is child-sex tourism – where people travel, often with the assistance of Internet-based tour operators, to other countries to engage in commercial sex acts with children. The destinations typically have a lower legal age of sexual consent than the sex tourist’s home country or comparatively lax law enforcement. According to the International Tribunal for Children’s Rights, “Sex tours enable men and women who would not identify with the label pedophile to travel to exotic places where they feel able to step outside whatever sexual mores may constrain them at home, because they believe these rules do not exist in foreign cultures. Powerful forces of racism, misogyny, neo-colonialism and economic exploitation combine to sell “exotic” and “erotic” sex vacations.

In some settings, there are longstanding traditions which dictate that women and girls are automatically enter the sex industry – and that men work as pimps for their sisters, wives and daughters. The Rajnat men in Rajasthan, India, for example have lived off the earnings of the females in their family for centuries. While Rajnat girls historically serviced the princely families in the Raj system, they now service local farmers and merchants. Such is the extent of their involvement in the commercial sex industry that wives are in short supply in certain communities. Even those men who manage to find spouses may be left to care for their children while their wives work within the sex industry. These families raise their daughters to do the same.

Noncommercial markets

Child prostitution also takes place outside commercial markets. In parts of Africa and Asia, some girls are offered or sold into sexual slavery by their families – who are seeking political assistance, economic benefit, spiritual appeasement or all of the above. These children then serve priests, wealthy men or even – in the form of “temple prostitutes” – a deity.

Street children of any culture might engage in “survival sex” for subsistence. So might other poor or socially marginalized children who lack any other resources or support. A study of adolescents in Zambia found that many girls have sex with their male peers in exchange for money or goods. While the girls acknowledged that poverty is their prime motivator, the boys explained that “having sex with girls is a way of proving that one is a man and it is a means of gaining popularity.”

“Sugar Daddy” relationships further extend this unequal power dynamic. The global phenomenon of the sugar daddy appears to be gaining popularity in sub-Saharan Africa, where older men – hoping to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases – coerce adolescents into sexual relationships by offering money, cell phones or other gifts. While the risk of exposure to disease may be reduced for the older man, it is more likely to be increased for the girl. Research suggests that girls in relationships with marked age asymmetries have less success negotiating condom use. This, in fact, is true for all sexually exploited girls, regardless of whether their victimization occurs in commercial or noncommercial settings.

Girls are not the only victims of the sex trade. Although data are still lacking, it is likely that in every country a considerable number of young boys also are sexually exploited. In Sri Lanka, significantly more boys than girls work as child prostitutes. The Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Czech Republic, Egypt and Morocco are a sampling of destinations offering sex tourism involving young boys. In Iraq, where the number of commercial sex workers has increased in the midst of political turmoil, hundreds of young boys are believed to be sexually exploited. Many of them work under the menacing control of street gangs. Sixteen-year-old Hassan, whose homosexuality is grounds for death under Iraq’s Islamic law, was forced into the commercial sex industry by a man who took pictures of Hassan while they were having sex. The man threatened to send the pictures to Hassan’s family if the child refused to be pimped out to other men.

Despite the clear vulnerability of boys – especially those who are impoverished, gay or, for other reasons, cast out of society – the majority of child prostitutes in the world are girls. Their exploitation is in many ways an extension of gender norms and behaviors prevalent in the societies in which they are bought and sold. In Tokyo, for example, where a 2001 survey “found that 72 percent of teenage girls had been groped on their way to school,” a sex club offers clients a service called “ripping pants off a school girl”. Another option is to molest girls who are holding onto ceiling straps in a simulation of a subway train.”

All text is copyright (IRIN). Full permission is given for reproduction for non-commercial purposes.

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2 Responses to “Child Prostitution”

  1. Hi! I’ve just been reading the women’s stories over at the UN site your site is linked to. Absolutely fascinating. It has reminded me of how lucky I am. On a more serious note, your work has reminded me of how prevalent physical and sexual violence is against women. It is an issue that often seems to get lost in feminist rhetoric: ‘we’ seem to get so taken up with the issue of ‘pencil skirts’ and underwear that we forget prime issues. Which reminds me – I came here thru hamilton’s post on women and ministry….. (mind is a little jumbled)…… often to me, it seems that the perpetuation of such notions results in such instances that you describe. using a religious text to subordinate women ends up giving one rationale for beating and sexually abusing women. hmm

  2. Hi Natalie –

    It’s a difficult issue to navigate since people often get so upset whenever they feel that any area of their religion is under fire, but I’m convinced that patriarchal religions are largely to blame for the mistreatment of the female sex. Part of the problem is that even many women have internalized the ideals of patriarchy to such a degree that they fail to recognize the injustice.



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