The child and its environment
Who is a child ?
Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that the child is a person below the age of 18, unless the age of majority is attained earlier under the national law applicable to the child. As such 18 has become the age for determining childhood among the international child rights NGO community.
What makes children vulnerable? A complex matrix of factors makes children vulnerable and shapes the forces and circumstances that allow them to be commercially sexually exploited. These factors and forces include:
- Extreme Poverty which subjects families to survival strategies and limit opportunities for families to provide a safe environment for the child to grow and develop. However, poverty does not alone adequately explain a child’s vulnerability. There are other factors that make children vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
- Family instability: alcoholic parents or relatives, violent or abusive, fail to provide children with care and protection. As a consequence, children can be forced to leave their homes so as to live and work in the streets. Street children may be forced into prostitution in order to survive but also because of their need for emotional affection, which can trick them into believing false promises made by adults wishing to exploit them.
- Political instability such as armed conflicts, political crises, pervasive and widespread violence can increase children’s vulnerability. The chaos of conflict can separate children from their parents; as a result children can become an easy prey for abusers. Potential abusers can be peacekeepers, belligerent groups, the army or others.
- Harmful Traditions and Customs: some traditions enable or at least tolerate ill-treatment of children. It is the case of countries where discriminatory and violent relations are prevalent towards children, young girls, or an ethnic group in particular. There are also customs that value the experience of taking a girl’s virginity or the aesthetic nature of a hairless body, which causes the age of exploited children to decrease each year. It is therefore necessary to work on behaviors and cultural beliefs which help maintain this demand.
- Inadequate Laws and Corruption: Many countries lack a comprehensive legal framework for deterring crimes, managing investigations, prosecuting perpetrators and protecting and assisting children during their recovery. In addition, corruption among police and other law enforcement officials can be a major obstacle in combating commercial sexual exploitation.
Under no circumstances do these factors justify sexual exploitation of children.
Can children consent to being prostituted ?
The question arises due to the existence of an age of sexual consent in legislations. It refers to the time at which a person is considered legally able to engage in sexual activity. The age of consent is usually lower than the age of majority and varies from country to country – and even within a country. The age of sexual consent typically varies from 12 to 16 (18 in some areas of the USA and in Egypt, 14 in Canada, 15 in France, 13 in Korea, 12 in Mexico). 16 is the most widely accepted age of consent worldwide.
In France, even if the age of consent is 15, there are some limitations:
With respect to the chosen partner. A minor cannot engage in sexual relations with:
- Ascendants (father, mother, grand-mother…) or any other person exercising de jure or facto authority over a victim (brother, in laws…)
- Individuals exercising to some extent authority or influence over a teen by reason of their position or educational function (teacher, youth camp recreation instructor, boarding school supervisor).
Pornography: on this matter, relating French texts of legislation differentiate between the age of sexual consent (acquired by age 15) and the age of majority (age 18). In the case of pornography, the age of majority is taken into account. The legal qualification of child pornography is thus defined for child victims below the age of 18. The consent of the teenager cannot be withheld/opposed.
Prostitution: the French Criminal Code (art. 225-1261) specifies the following “requesting, accepting or obtaining in exchange for financial remuneration, relations of a sexual nature from a minor engaged in prostitution is a criminal offence, even occasionally, and is penalized by 3 years of imprisonment and a 45 000 Euros fine.”
There is indeed a fundamental difference between having a sexual intercourse in the context of sexual awakening and having a sexual relation for the purpose of obtaining compensation (such as cash, objects, good grades). Just as well as it is normal in our societies to determine an age of sexual consent in the first case, it is essential, as regards to the sexual exploitation of children, to contemplate that a child does not freely choose to sell its body or to bear abuses. It is not a choice; it is a “non-choice” in the light of economic, political, cultural, or social circumstances undergone by the child.
How do children fall into prostitution ?
There are different ways in which children and teenagers are forced into prostitution and enter the sex trade. We often imagine that they are kidnapped or lured into prostitution, to be sold and traded way to exploiters. In fact, this actually represents a large proportion of cases. Nevertheless, there are also cases where children or teenagers are drifted towards prostitution in a more insidious manner: either by a pimp boyfriend, by their own families’ will, or because a person in exchange for money, good grades or clothes, urges them to have sexual intercourse. It is impossible to list all the situations which can drive a child to fall into prostitution. However, it is important to bear in mind that in all cases, children are under such influence and control by their exploiters that they are unaware of their status as victims. For the child, the situation can be perceived as “normal”, and this makes it all the more difficult for child protection organizations to help lift the child out of exploitation.
How does commercial sexual exploitation affect children?
What hazards are children facing?
Children are frequently forced to have unprotected sexual intercourse. Thus, they are at great risk of contracting infections from sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV or AIDS. Children working in brothels generally live in appalling conditions, by being deprived of adequate nutrition, water and medical care, factors that increase the probability of contracting infections. This situation is especially prevalent in Asia, Africa and South America. The lack of condom use causes young girls to bear repetitive pregnancies. They often have to endure unsafe abortions that are likely to generate serious consequences at the physical level. In addition, children who are commercially sexually exploited are also at great risk of physical violence. They can suffer from chronic physical violence from their abusers, procurers (pimps), or traffickers. Those who refuse to prostitute themselves are regularly beaten, injured or raped.
What are the psychological consequences for children?
Sexual exploitation has profound, lifelong psychological impacts on children. They can suffer from depression, low self-esteem, sleeplessness, hopelessness; they can have trouble concentrating, demonstrate aggressive behaviours, and suffer from suppressed anger. Children can feel a sense of guilt and fear for their safety and the safety of others. It can be hard for a child to be able to trust adults. They can act with “pseudo” maturity, given the confusion as to the limits of their role. Some children do not believe they are worthy of rescue, and some attempt suicide. They can also create a fictitious reality in which they assert that they have chosen prostitution, that they want to help their families and that their procurers (pimps) mean well for them.
Why do child victims of prostitution often consume drugs or alcohol?
Drug addiction and prostitution are closely related. Indeed, on the one hand, sexual exploitation of children often involves an imposition of the use of drugs or alcohol, so as to make children submissive and dependent upon such substances over time. On the other hand, child victims continue to use and abuse hard drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with the risks, sexual activities and living conditions they are subjected to. Moreover, psychologically speaking, during the process of exploitation, victims tend to develop self-destructive behaviours, including alcohol and drug abuse.
How are children affected by child pornography?
Children who have been exploited through the production of pornography can specifically experience immediate or future shame, and they can be afraid of being recognized and identified. Anxiety can be intensified when a child understands that abusive images of him/her will continue to be produced and go around the internet to a close or distant audience, and will continue to do so far into the future. Some of these symptoms can even develop when a young person has created pornographic images of himself/herself.
What is the link between a sexually exploited child and a child sex exploiter?
The relationship between an exploiter and a child is often characterized by a sexual victimization process, through the establishment of a relationship based on utter control or influence by the abuser over the young person. The child is often the subject of strong mental manipulation and goes into a process of “mental alienation”. Indeed, the victims’ feelings are violated and exploited, desire is artificially stimulated, genuine emotions are inhibited and individual thoughts are annihilated.
Can a sexually exploited child have a normal life?
Sexual exploitation of children, in all its forms, seriously compromises and threatens a child’s physical, psychological, spiritual, moral and social development. Sexual exploitation denies a child’s right to enjoy their youth, and their ability to lead a productive rewarding and dignified life. Consequences of sexual exploitation and violence continue into adulthood.
Does sexual exploitation affects children’s future lives?
Actual effects vary according to the child’s individual history, experience and developmental stage. Effects also vary depending on the nature, duration and form of the abuse; nevertheless, all children are adversely affected by being commercially sexually exploited. For instance, some research suggests that child sexual abuse experiences may also contribute to a young person’s later experiences of sexual exploitation. Although research on child victims of sexual abuse and exploitation is limited, studies indicate that victims are more likely to suffer from physical or psychological problems: they can suffer from depression, anxiety, have suicidal tendencies and abuse drugs and alcohol…