13-year-old Anna was tied to a chair by a man in his late 20’s in a dark, wet room. Her wounded legs lay motionless, while her tired black eyes stared with panic at the beaker of boiling water which the man threatened to pour down her throat if she refused to go on doing what he demanded: selling her body.
Shockingly enough the above scene was not set in Thailand or the Philippines as most would expect, but in Toronto, Canada, for Anna is unfortunately only one of the 1500 child prostitutes living in this city, the 10,000 child prostitutes across Canada, and the more than 700,000 child prostitutes in the so-called developed West.
Contrary to popular belief, most child prostitutes come from middle class families, and unlike prostitutes in the developing world, are not running away from poverty, but from a dysfunctional life, after suffering physical, emotional and often, sexual abuse. According to the US Department of Justice, the vast majority of juvenile prostitutes are children whose parents are divorced, deceased, drug addicts, alcoholics or mentally ill. The absence of a safe home, together with the expectedly low self-esteem these children suffer from, make them far more vulnerable to exploitation from pimps.
Although child prostitution has been around for a long time, it has only recently been recognized as an issue, due to the alarming increase in the number of its victims. According to the World Congress Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, during the last two decades, the number of children becoming prostitutes in developed countries has tripled, from less than 200,000 in the late 70s to well over half a million today.
This is sadly only because of the simple market rule of demand and supply. After the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted deceases, there was a demand in the international sex market for the supply of prostitutes, which would be HIV free and provide safer sex, and so, pimps turned to underage prostitutes, expanding the child prostitution network.
Unfortunately, the idea that children are somehow safer is only a misconception. Children have not yet fully developed their natural immune system, and are, therefore, more likely to be infected by diseases like AIDS, Syphilis and Hepatitis-B.
Furthermore, child prostitutes are also threatened by street violence and by physical, emotional and sexual abuse by their pimps and clients. According to the Canadian Department of Justice, one in ten incidents of street violence in urban areas is committed against a prostitute under eighteen, while 70% of juneville prostitutes interviewed by Barnardo’s Children Charity in Britain, admitted that they had been raped an average of 30 times each.
Physical abuse when children rebel against their way of life results in bruises, burns, fractures and other forms of torture, like the case of Anna, where she was threatened with having boiling water poured into her mouth. Sexual assaults lead to infertility, sexually transmitted infections and abortions. Emotional abuse results in overdoses, eating disorders and mental problems, such as severe depression.
To make matters worse, the easiest escape route these children find, is almost always through drugs. This is in fact encouraged by pimps, because it guarantees that their victims will go to any lengths to get the money for another fix. Barnardo’s actually claims that nine in ten child prostitutes over 12 are drug addicts.
Putting all of the above together, it is estimated by Barnardo’s that the average lifespan of a child entering prostitution is just seven years, meaning that many of these kids will not even make it to adulthood. This, in combination with the rapid expansion of the problem should be more than enough to mean that it is time for this issue to be taken far more seriously. In the words of Dr. Lyndon who works with child prostitutes in England: “Child prostitution is here, and it’s knocking on our doors. We must do something about it now, or the question we will soon be asking will be “Whose child next?”.”
So, what is to be done?
An ideal solution to the issue of juneville prostitution should not only consist of punishing those guilty of prostituting a child, but also take care of the victimized children, as well as preventing other from falling into the trap in the future. Hence, the ideal solution should consist of the following:
· The punishment of those that prostitute a child by treating the offence as first degree child abuse
· The creation of special housing and aiding units exclusively for child prostitutes in urban areas, to help them escape from it, and
· The training of adults in contact with young people, such as teachers, counselors and members of children’s charities, to recognize potential victims of pimps.
Firstly, the punishment of those responsible for prostituting a child, in other words the pimps, as child abusers. As I have already suggested, child prostitution is a form of child abuse, since it comprises the physical and emotional exploitation of minors. Therefore, this is how it should be treated in legal terms. At the moment, in the US, the average penalty for a person guilty of engaging a minor in prostitution or profiting by it is three to five years of imprisonment. In some states, if a financial profit is not proven he is not imprisoned at all, but is only fined. Similar legislation is found in Canada and Britain.
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