Children and Prostitution – Introduction

Children and Prostitution – Introduction

Introduction –
Part 1
Part 2
Annotated Bibliography

Background and Context of this Review

In spite of international commitment to the eradication of all practices associated with the sexual exploitation of and sale and traffic in children, there is little comprehensive data on the extent, mechanisms or root causes. Research has thus far been largely exploratory, to a great extent using data generated from secondary sources, most frequently from journalism and non
governmental organisations, whether these have a campaigning or welfare orientation. There is an urgent need for more systematic and global knowledge of the nature and incidence of the problem, including an understanding of the cultural, social and economic contexts in which it arises and flourishes and the development of typologies and categories that can be of use not only in developing appropriate conceptual frameworks and methods of research but also eventually in policy formulation and programme development by national and international bodies. It is also clear that there is a critical need to develop operational definitions that will capture the phenomena involved in the commercial sexual exploitation of children, so that they can be measured, monitored and combatted.

Structure of the research

The research on which this review is based took place at the request of UNICEF Headquarters, New York, Children in Especially Difficult Circumstances Section as a background document for the Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, held in Stockholm 25-31 August, 1996. Researchers were based at the Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge, which is a Key Institution of Childwatch International, an international network of child research institutes and researchers. The researchers were thus able to take advantage of an existing structure of monthly child research seminars and the expertise of a number of children’s rights, child labour and child sexual exploitation researchers working in the university as well as of the Childwatch International Indicators for Children’s Rights Project, which is also based at the Centre for Family Research;

The research team members were Judith Ennew, Kusum Gopal, Janet Heeran and Heather Montgomery, with a peer review group consisting of Professor Jean La Fontaine, Dr Virginia Morrow, Professor Marilyn Strathern, Dr Christopher Williams, and the Director of the Centre for Family Research, Dr Martin Richards.

A mid-term Consultation, held in the University of Cambridge, was attended by Dr Virginia Morrow (Senior Research Associate, Centre for Family Research), Dr Sophie Day (Department of Anthropology, Goldsmith’s College, University of London), Dr Alicia Fentiman (Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge), Einar Hanssen (Norwegian Centre for Child Research, University of Trondheim), Rachel Hinton (Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge), Alka Gurung (Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge), Professor Jean La Fontaine (Emeritus Professor, London School of Economics), Brian Milne (Defence for Children International, U.K. Section), Angela Penrose (Save the Children U.K., Overseas Research Department), Dr Frances Pine (Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge), Professor Marilyn Strathern (Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge), Dr Helen Watson, (Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge), Dr Christopher Williams (Global Security Programme, University of Cambridge). It is worth mentioning that those present at the Consultation have expertise in various aspects of the social sciences including studies of women, children, gender and prostitution, as well as direct research experience in (inter alia) Nepal, UK, India, West Africa, South Africa, East Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Thailand, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Norway, Poland and Egypt. Papers from the Consultation were also shared with Andrew Bainham, Dr Jo Boyden, Dr Charlie Davison, Dr Michael Edwards, Richard Fentiman, Dr Angie Hart, Edda Ivan-Smith, Dr Ziba Mir-Husseini, Dr Martin Richards and Philip Van Haeke.

This edition of the review includes materials developed during three days of workshops immediatley preceding the Congress Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of children, in which the team members were joined by Mark Connolly of UNICEF Headquarters, New York, Children in Especially Difficult Circumstances Section.

The researchers are thus grateful for the invaluable support and guidance of a number of individuals given when investigating, structuring and writing this review. Nevertheless, as authors they bear responsibility both for the opinions expressed and for any errors or omissions.

Objectives and scope

The objectives of the research were to:

€Map the discourse of the commercial sexual exploitation of children, showing the main ideas in operation and the main organisational and geographical contexts in which they arise;

€Map the data showing what data are available, their strengths and weaknesses, together with a critique of methods and assumptions;

€Describe the context of the production and reproduction of knowledge in this field;

€Discuss the implications of the current state of discourses and data and their potential for future work, particularly in the area of measurement.

In order to develop the most useful and systematic research typologies and methods, the literature review team considered in the first instance the widest possible range of reported occurrences of the sexual exploitation of and sale and traffic in children for sexual purposes. These included:

€marriage broking
€sex tourism
€cultural practices such as devadasi
€adoption and fostering of older children
€sexual abuse in institutional settings
€sexual abuse of domestic servants

Literature from appropriate sources in major European languages was searched using both electronic and manual data bases. Some literature was not located and other material was located but could not be accessed in the time available. One major set of literature that was not addressed in detail was the official discourse of governments, inter-governmental organisations and of the Congress Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children itself. Further major lacunae in the research process were materials from Francophone countries and information about Islamic nations.

Structure of the review

In the first instance, data were collected and examined on a regional basis. The team members met regularly to review progress and consider the conceptual and theoretical issues raised by material collected and read. Monthly team seminars, attended by members of the peer review group, developed specific themes addressing definitional and methodological issues. At the mid-term Consultation, the research team specifically requested advice on:

€Identifying phenomena and defining concepts. This was not to say that it was intended to develop ‘concepts for all time’ but rather to find operational concepts that might be used for the purposes of research and measurement.

€Deepening their critical review of the literature. Although new references were welcomed, the team had discovered that, in general, data are too weak in this field to justify further literature searches. On the contrary, it was felt necessary to pinpoint the reasons why these data are so poor and also to consider the manner in which they are produced.

€Ideas about the most productive routes to follow in order to clear a path for work to measure and monitor the commercial sexual exploitation of children. In this respect, the expert group was asked for advice about the most useful concepts to define, the background literature most appropriate for this purpose and the most productive areas to research in more depth.

This current review is structured on the basis of the lively discussion that took place at the Consultation. The most important single factor in the structure is the fact that the original approach, which had been to review literature on a regional basis, was abandoned in favour of using the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as a universal conceptual framework that can be applied to all regions, bearing in mind the requirement to be cognisant of and sensitive to cultural differences.

The review thus consists of two parts. In the first, after a consideration of the problems raised by taking a regional perspective, the relevant articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child are explored with respect to some of the phenomena to which they refer, the concepts that capture these phenomena, the data that will be required to measure them and the potential for constructing a system of indicators for monitoring not only the current situation with respect to the commercial sexual exploitation of children, but also the impact of interventions aimed to prevent and eradicate it, as well as to rehabilitate those children who have been and are involved. The second part of the review consists of an annotated bibliography, organised on a regional basis, with brief introductory essays overviewing the main themes encountered in each region, cultural aspects and some consideration of the type and quality of data represented. The works included in the bibliography represent those most pertinent to the themes of this review, but do not give a comprehensive account of the totality of literature consulted.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the review is the relative lack of coverage of the topic of pornography. On the advice of the experts at the Consultation the research team decided to concentrate their efforts for this background document for the Congress Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children on the topic of children and prostitution. This decision was taken for purely practical time considerations. However, the choice of title, ‘Children and Prostitution’ was not arbitrary. This was chosen in order to aid conceptualisation of the entire topic, avoiding the narrower scope of terms such as child prostitute and child sex worker as well as the problems of using phrases such as ‘commercial sexual exploitation’ in certain cultural contexts, particularly in Africa.


The definitions with which the research team began were those common in international human rights circles. They were not necessarily regarded as the most pertinent within the scope of this study and, as the text will show, considerable adaptation occurred in the course of conceptualising a new framework that is not bound to regional discourses. Nevertheless, the following definitions were used as a guide for the purpose of data collection:

Child” was used as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 1 as “every human being below the age of 18 years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”.

With respect to child prostitution and pornography the point of departure was taken from Vitit Muntarbhorn, then United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, at the 48th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, 1992:

“‘Child Prostitution‘ refers to the sexual exploitation of a child for remuneration in cash or in kind, usually but not always organized by an intermediary (parent, family member, procurer, teacher, etc.)”

“The term ‘child pornography‘ refers to the visual or audio depiction of a child for the sexual gratification of the user, and involves the production, distribution and/or use of such material.”

It should be noted that, whereas this definition of ‘The Child’ has been adopted by the United Nations General Assembly as integral to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 1989, entered into force 1990), the definitions given by the former Special Rapporteur on Sale of Children are simply part of his first report to the UN Human Rights Commission — they are thus not official UN definitions.

For the purpose of data collection, ‘commercial sexual exploitation‘ was distinguished from sexual abuse, by the fact that some pecuniary advantage is achieved by some party to sexual activity. Pecuniary advantage is understood in the wider sense that includes cash and kind so long as there is some means of accounting in monetary terms. Sexual activity is not limited to penetrative sex, or even to genital sexual activities. Moreover, as stated above, and in common with the definitions of child and child prostitution, the conceptual and theoretical work carried out for the review resulted in considerable modification of this definition.

Part 1
Part 2
Annotated Bibliography