The Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography defines child prostitution as “the use of a child in sexual activities for remuneration or any other form of consideration”. The prostitution of children thus occurs when someone benefits from a commercial transaction in which a child is made available for sexual purposes. Children may be controlled by an intermediary who manages or oversees the transaction, or by a sex exploiter, who negotiates directly with the child. Children are also involved in prostitution when they engage in sex in return for basic needs such as food, shelter or safety, or for favours such as higher grades at school or extra pocket money to purchase consumer goods. These acts may occur in many different locations, such as brothels, bars, clubs, homes, hotels or on the street.
The key issue is not that children make a choice to engage in prostitution in order to survive or to buy more consumer goods: driven by circumstances, or influenced by acquaintances, peers as well as social norms and values, they are pushed into situations in which adults take advantage of their vulnerability and sexually exploit and abuse them. In this sense, the terms ‘child prostitute’ or ‘child sex worker’ do not reflect the actual reality as they imply that a child has somehow chosen to make prostitution a profession. It is adults who create ‘child prostitution’ through their demand for children as sexual objects, their misuse of power and their desire for profit; as such, children are victims of abuse rather than ‘sex workers’.
Child prostitution exists because there is a demand for it. Deterrence and criminal punishments are important, but any efforts to end child prostitution must also recognise the need to challenge behaviours and beliefs that consider children as sexual objects. As the only network exclusively dedicated to CSEC, ECPAT is at the forefront of actions to condemn inappropriate attitude towards children.