Child Prostitution Among Boys and Girls is on the Rise
Child Prostitution Among Boys and Girls is on the Rise
Date: February 1, 1999
Source: AFP/Getty Images
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Child prostitution is an acknowledged and growing problem in Southeast Asia, particularly in the countries of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that nearly a million children in Asia (primarily girls, and some boys) are involved in the sex trade industry, whether by force and coercion or as a pragmatic alternative to dire poverty. Poor economic conditions, and the traditional marginalization and subjugation of females contribute to a cultural milieu that allows the proliferation of child exploitation to occur and links to international tourism perpetuate child prostitution as a financially lucrative activity.
CHILD PROSTITUTION AMONG BOYS AND GIRLS IS ON THE RISE
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In much of Southeast Asia, female children are considered to be an economic and social liability. The parents of a female child must pay a dowry to the family of her future husband, and the girl then becomes the property of her husband's family. Given this cultural reality, combined with the prevalence of extreme poverty in that area of the world, parents are often enticed into selling their female children into sex slavery, either for a lump sum or for a monthly payment, thereby turning their female children into a financial asset, rather than a liability. In some cases, an older child will be sold in order to pay for the education and dowries of younger children in the family. The children of adult prostitutes are also likely to become prostitutes themselves. Children living on the street may be enslaved by brothel owners in return for food and a place to live, or may choose to become involved in street prostitution as a means to make money for food, clothing and shelter.
In countries such as India and Nepal, there are established cultural traditions of ritualized and organized forms of prostitution, which normalize and perpetuate the sale of children into the sex trade. Girls who are trafficked into the sex trade also may fall prey to cultural and religious beliefs that justify their maltreatment. In one example given by Alice Leuchtag in her 2003 article "Human Rights, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution," a young Thai girl is convinced by her pimp that she must have been a bad person in a previous incarnation to have been born as a female and that she must also have a great deal of bad karma in her past to cause her to deserve the enslavement and poor treatment that she will have to endure.
Although there are laws against child prostitution and the sexual exploitation of children in many Asian countries, including Thailand, Cambodia and Bangladesh, law enforcement officers and officials in these countries are often corrupt and may have a vested interest in the brothels that pimp child prostitutes. The officers may collect a portion of the profits from the brothel owners in return for turning a blind eye to their illegal activities, or may in fact be part owners themselves.
Prostitution is a lucrative business in Asia. It is estimated that each year, sex slaves bring in profits of over ten and a half billion dollars to brothel owners worldwide. In Asia, vast amounts of money are brought into the country by men from developed countries who contribute to a growing "sex tourism" industry. In Thailand alone, millions of sex tourists from North America, Western Europe, Australia and Japan, visit each year, bringing billions of dollars into the local economy. According to Donna Hughes, who investigated the global sexual exploitation of women and children for the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, men who engage in sex tourism seem to feel that they have a right to have sex with prostitutes, and with child prostitutes. These "sex tourists" commodify and objectify women [and children] of other cultures, nationalities and ethnic groups and seemingly have no awareness of the issues of racism, colonialism, global economic inequalities and sexism and the harm that it does.
Beyond the degradation and subjugation that child prostitutes are forced to endure, there are also significant risks to life and health associated with involvement in the sex trade. HIV infection is an epidemic and growing problem in southeast Asia. The girls who work as prostitutes cannot force their "customers" to wear condoms. The girls may be tested for HIV, often at their own expense, but their risk of contracting the disease is high. Once a prostitute has been diagnosed with HIV, she will no longer be able to work and will leave the brothel with no money, no job, and no place to live. Some may continue to work as prostitutes on the street in order to survive, placing their customers and others at risk. In fact, the World Health Organization has found that large numbers of new cases of HIV are occurring among the wives and girlfriends of men who purchase sex from prostitutes. Ironically, fear of HIV is actually contributing to the spread of child prostitution, as young girls (particularly virgins) are seen as desirable sexual partners because they are considered to be "cleaner" than older prostitutes. Men will pay a premium to a brothel to have sex with a young virgin. Examinations of one thousand children taken from brothels in Thailand revealed that twenty percent were infected with HIV and eighty-two percent had other sexually transmitted diseases.
Physical violence is another risk for child prostitutes in Asia. Young girls are often raped by their pimps as an initiation into the world of prostitution. They may also suffer violent sex and physical abuse at the hands of paying customers. Pimps and brothel owners may often use physical violence as a means of ensuring compliance and obedience from the girls.
The plight of child prostitutes has arisen on the world stage and has been under investigation by Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and other concerned organizations. Regardless of whether children are sold into sexual slavery or choose to become prostitutes to escape poverty, the involvement of children in the sex trade is always exploitative and socially harmful. Asian governments are beginning to make changes to legislation to reduce child prostitution, and some western nations such as Sweden and Australia have pledged to prosecute those who abuse children abroad as a part of the sex tourism industry. Though much child prostitution can be linked to international tourism, there is also a domestic market for child prostitutes in Asia that is often overlooked. Sweeping cultural changes are necessary in the treatment of women and female children in Asia to eradicate the sexism and subjugation that allow widespread sexual exploitation to continue.
Banerjee, Upala Devi. "Globalization and its Links to Migration and Trafficking: The Crisis in India, Nepal and Bangladesh." Canadian Woman Studies. (2003) 22 (3-4):124-130.
Leuchtag, Alice. "Human Rights, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution." The Humanist. (2003) 63(1): 10-15.
Perrin, Andrew. "Shame: Asia's Child Sex Industry is Booming, Despite Tougher Laws and a Few High-Profile Deportation Cases." Time International. (2002) 160(10).
Child Workers in Asia. "Working Children in the Service Sector." 〈http://www.cwa.tnet.co.th/Publications/Magazine/workingchildrenservicesector.html〉 (accessed April 10, 2006).