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Prostitution of children (or child prostitution) is a form of commercial sexual exploitation of children in which a child performs the services of prostitution, most often for the financial benefit of an adult. The term is widely used to describe prostitution of prepubescent or pubescent children, however In legal definitions, the term usually refers to prostitution by a minor, or person under the local age of majority. The form of child prostitution in which adults travel to foreign countries for the purposes of avoiding local laws is known as child sex tourism.


The Optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography to the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that child prostitution is the practice whereby a child is used by others for sexual activities in return for remuneration or any other form of consideration. The remuneration or other consideration could be provided to the child or to another person. The 131 countries who are parties to the Optional Protocol (at May 2009) undertake to prohibit child prostitution.

Most generally, the prostitution of children means that a party other than the child benefits from a commercial transaction in which the child is made available for sexual purposes—either an exploiter intermediary (pimp) who controls or oversees the child’s activities for profit, or a child abuser who negotiates an exchange directly with a child in order to receive sexual gratification. The provision of children for sexual purposes may also be a medium of exchange between adults.

The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (Convention No 182) of the International Labour Organization (ILO) provides that the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution is one of the worst forms of child labor. This convention, adopted in 1999, provides that countries that had ratified it must eliminate the practice urgently. It enjoys the fastest pace of ratifications in the ILO's history since 1919.


Child prostitution is sometimes used to describe the wider concept of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). However, child prostitution excludes other identifiable manifestations of CSEC, such as commercial sexual exploitation through child marriage, domestic child labor, and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

It was the limitations of the term child prostitution that led to the development in the mid-1990s of the term commercial sexual exploitation of children, or CVE,as a more encompassing description of specific forms of sexual trade involving children. Nevertheless, ‘child prostitution’ remains in common usage and is indeed the wording embedded in international instruments of law.

Some believe that the terms child prostitution and child prostitute carry problematic connotations. They claim this is because these terms, on their own, fail to make it clear that children cannot be expected to make an informed choice to prostitute themselves. The act of prostituting a child is often carried out by another party, as stated in the definition provided by the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Causes and context

Children are often forced by social structures and individual agents into situations in which adults take advantage of their vulnerability and sexually exploit and abuse them. Structure and agency commonly combine to force a child into commercial sex: for example, the prostitution of a child frequently follows from prior sexual abuse, often in the child's home.

Child prostitution usually takes place in particular environments, such as brothels, bars and clubs, or homes, or particular streets and areas (usually in socially run down places). Sometimes it is not organized, but often it is, either on a small scale through individual pimps or on a larger scale through extensive criminal networks. See organized crime.

Children also engage in prostitution, however, when they exchange sex outside these environments and in return not only for basic needs such as accommodation, food, clothing, or safety, but also for extra pocket money for desired consumer goods otherwise out of their reach. There is a subculture of "pocket money prostitution" in many consumer societies, whereby girls and boys under 18 rent out their sexual services for cash or expensive gifts, or to save up for cars, motorcycles, even college tuition. In Japan it's called Enjo kosai "sponsored dating", American/Canadian high schools are not exempt from this phenomenon.

These teenagers are prostituted in conditions that appear otherwise perfectly normal. Enjo kosai, the pay-dating practice reported in Japan, is considered a prime example of this. However, this latter practice is by definition voluntary rather than via manipulation.

Living and working conditions for children that are prostituted are frequently substandard. Such children are commonly poorly paid or unpaid, kept in unsanitary conditions, denied access to proper medical care, and constantly watched and kept subservient through threat of force. These threats may be physical or psychological in nature.

While some sex tourists may use children involved in prostitution, it has been argued that the majority of their 'clients' are instead the locals. Quoting from the back cover of a recent work:
The Asian sex trade is often assumed to cater predominantly to foreigners.
Sex Slaves turns that belief on its head to show that while western sex tourists have played a vital part in the growth of the industry, the primary customers of Asia's indentured sex workers and of its child prostitutes are overwhelmingly Asian men.


While the legality of adult prostitution varies between different parts of the world, the prostitution of minors is illegal in most countries. Furthermore, many countries whose citizens most frequently engage in international child procurement, such as the United Statesmarker, Australia and European countries, enforce worldwide jurisdiction on their nationals traveling abroad.

As previously mentioned, some literature refers to prostitutes between 13 to 17 years of age as 'teenage prostitutes,' but the most common definition of a 'child' is a person who is under the age of 18. The latter definition is used by the ILO's Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, discussed above. Therefore prostitution of children usually assumed to refer to the prostitution of persons under 18.

The laws of some countries do, however, distinguish between teenage prostitutes and the prostitution of younger children. For example, the Thai government defines a teenage prostitute as being between 15 and 18 years old, while the Japanese government defines one as being between 13 and 18. The basis for making this distinction may be that older children are considered legally able to consent to sex, while sex with younger children is automatically rendered unlawful as statutory rape. However, the definitions of teenage prostitution in some countries do not correlate to the relevant age of consent laws. In the People's Republic of Chinamarker, all forms of prostitution are illegal, but having sexual contact with anyone under the age of 14, regardless of consent, will be charged with a more serious crime than raping an adult.



In Cambodiamarker, it has been estimated that about a third of all prostitutes are under 18 .

The exact number of child-prostitutes in Thailandmarker is not known, but Thailand’s Health System Research Institute reports that children in prostitution make up 40% of prostitutes in Thailand .

In Indiamarker, the federal police say thataround 1.2 million children are believed to be involved in prostitution . A CBI statement said that studies and surveys sponsored by the ministry of women and child development estimated that about 40% of all India's prostitutes are children.

In Indonesiamarker, UNICEF estimates that 30% of the female prostitutes are below 18 .

In the Philippinesmarker, there are 60,000 to 100,000 prostituted children, according to UNICEF and non-governmental organisations .

In Sri Lankamarker, there are nearly 40,000 child prostitutes, according to UNICEF and ILO .

In Nepalmarker, according to research conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) on440 prostitutes from Kathmandumarker, approximately 30% of them were found to be children .

In Bangladeshmarker, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimated in 2004 that there were 10,000 underage girls used in commercial sexual exploitation in the country, but other estimates placed the figure as high as 29,000.

There are estimated to be at least 70,000 prostitutes in Vietnammarker, and 20,000 of these are children .

South America

It is estimated that Perumarker has about 500,000 child prostitutes .

In Colombiamarker, it is estimated that there are 35,000 prostituted children, with between 5,000 and 10,000 of them on the streets of Bogotámarker.

In 2003, the Government of Chilemarker estimated that there were approximately 3,700 children involved in some form of commercial sexual exploitation; in 1999 UNICEF put the number of child prostitutes much higher, estimating that there were approximately 10,000 children between the ages of 6 and 18 involved in prostitution .

In Ecuadormarker, a 2002 International Labor Organization report estimated that 5,200 minors were engaged in prostitution.

In Boliviamarker, the average age of entry into prostitution is 16.

Brazilmarker is considered to have the worst child sex trafficking record after Thailand. According to the Protection Project report, various official sources agree that from 250,000 to 500,000 children live as child prostitutes, but other sources in Brazil put the number at up to 2,000,000 children .

North America

In 2001, Dr. Richard Estes and Dr. Neil Alan Weiner estimated that in the U.S.marker, 162,000 U.S. homeless youth are victims of commercial sexual exploitation (CVE) and that 57,800 children in homes (including public housing) are estimated to be victims of CVE. They also estimated that 30% of shelter youth and 70% of homeless youth are victims of CVE in the United States. One third of street-level prostitutes in the U.S. are under 18 years old while fifty percent of off-street prostitutes are less than 18 years old. Off-street prostitution includes massage parlors, strip clubs, and escort services. According to Estes and Weiner, 12 to 14 is the average age of entry into prostitution for girls under 17 years old in the United States while the average age of entry into prostitution is between 11 and 13.

A study by Unicef Mexicomarker and the DIF/National System for Integral Family Development estimated that more than 16,000 children in Mexico were involved in prostitution (in June 2000);a 2004 study by researcher Elena Azaola estimated that some 17,000 children under the age of 18 are victims of the sex trade in Mexico;the State System of Integral Family Development (DIF) reported that more than 20,000 minors were victims of child prostitution in Mexico in 2005, an increase since the year 2000.Out of Mexico Citymarker’s 13,000 street children, 95% have already had at least one sexual encounter with an adult (many of them through prostitution).

In El Salvadormarker, an NGO study in 1998 indicated that at least 44 % of the estimated 1,300 prostitutes in 3 major red light districts of San Salvadormarker were between the ages of 13 and 18 .Among all prostitutes of the country, between 10 and 25 percent of visible prostitutes are minors, and an estimated 40 percent of the hidden prostitutes who cater to upper-class clients are believed to be minors, according to a UNICEF study released in 2000

In Nicaraguamarker, according to Casa Alianza, in the brothels of Managuamarker there are between 1,200 and 1,500 prostituted girls and young women, and almost half of them are under the age of 18 . Every night, hundreds of teenage girls line the Masaya Highway commercial corridor on the capital's south side. Street children engage in prostitution, often to support a drug habbit.


In Ukrainemarker, research has shown that between 30 and 40 percent of prostitutes are between 11 and 18 years

A 2006 report by World Vision Middle East/Eastern Europe funded by the Canadian government and supported by six United Nations agencies and the International Organization for Migration reported that the sexual exploitation of children, child trafficking and sexual violence towards minors is increasing and that Russiamarker is becoming a new destination for child sex tourism. The report adds that some studies claim approximately 20 to 25 percent of Moscowmarker's sex workers are minors.


In Australia, there are an estimated 4000 children involved in prostitution, according to a study by Child Wise, the Australian arm of the global End Child Prostitution Pornography And Trafficking group.

ECPAT New Zealandmarker and Stop Demand Foundation have cited in a report, “The Nature and Extent of the Sex Industry in New Zealand,” a police survey of the New Zealandmarker sex industry, which showed that 210 children under the age of 18 years were identified as selling sex, with three-quarters being concentrated in one Police District.

See also


  1. Back cover quote from: Louise Brown, Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia, Virago Press, 2001. ISBN 1860499031.
  2. US Dept. of Justice, Federal Efforts to Combat Interstate Sex Trafficking of Minors, retrieved April 23, 2007
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