According to the Terminology guidelines for the protection of children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, this form of exploitation consists of a child performing a sexual act in exchange for (a promise of) something of value (money, objects, shelter, food, drugs, etc). It is not necessarily the child who receives the object of exchange, but often a third person. Moreover, it is not necessary that an object of exchange is actually given; the mere promise of an exchange suffices, even if it is never fulfilled.
Why don’t we use the term “child prostitution”?
The definition of the Guide is based on that of the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (2000), which is also taken up by the Lanzarote Convention (2007) and the European Directive 2011/93/EU. These instruments refer to “child prostitution”. However, this term is not considered legally universal, and has since been called into question. It may be interpreted in a way that implies that the phenomenon is a legitimate form of prostitution or that the child has knowingly consented to prostitution. Similarly, the terms “child prostitute” or “child sex worker” distort the reality of the phenomenon, suggesting it is the child’s choice.
A child does not choose to engage in prostitution, she/he is forced by circumstances, values, social norms, or abusive people. Speaking of “child prostitution” suggests that it is primarily a matter of prostitution or sex work, with the assumption that the child has knowingly consented to prostitution.
A global phenomenon
The sexual exploitation of children in prostitution is a secular and global problem that has been escalating over the decades.
Asia, and particularly Southeast Asia, is often perceived as the region most affected by the phenomenon. This form of sexual exploitation of children is however present everywhere, whether in developed or developing countries. The secret and clandestine nature of this crime makes statistics on the number of child victims difficult to obtain. Despite this, research shows a steady rise in exploitation for the purpose of prostitution, facilitated inter alia by the development of new communication technologies, particularly the Internet. This exploitation affects younger and younger children and affects both boys and girls.