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Commercial sexual exploitation of children

Sex worker in a bar in Lao PDR
© UNICEF/LAO01135/Holmes
A youth researcher talks to a sex worker in a bar in Lao PDR

The Issues

A wide range of factors and layers of vulnerabilities related to children as individuals, their families and the socio-economic context in which they live result in their becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Relative poverty, disparities, discrimination and the perception that children ‘belong’ to their parents or guardians are often identified as key factors. The repercussions of such exploitation for children can be serious and long-lasting, causing significant emotional and physical harm.

Some of the issues related to commercial sexual exploitation of children are:

• Local demand. A flourishing tourist industry across the region contributes to the exploitation of children. While Western men are the most visible sex tourists or clients of sex workers (all ages but certainly of child sex workers), the majority tend to be Asians from other countries in the region. However, the attention placed on the large number of foreign clients overshadows the even larger population of local people seeking sexual services who range from local businessmen to migrant men who are away from their families.
• Child pornography and sexual exploitation through new technologies. Technological innovations have facilitated the production, possession and sharing of child abuse imagery, particularly through the Internet. Networks of abusers use new technologies to create child pornography, share them with fellow abusers or sell them illicitly either online or on the streets and in markets where pirated video material is found.
• Paedophilia. Crackdowns by law enforcement agencies have prompted paedophiles – those who have an exclusive sexual preference for prepubescent children – to develop more advanced communication networks to exchange images and information. Countries such as Cambodia and the Philippines, which struggle with a reputation for easy availability of young children, have been taking concerted action against abusers, particularly in recent years.

Patpong area, Bangkok, Thailand
© UNICEF/LAO01176/Holmes
Popular tourist areas, including bars that offer sex services, are among the typical destinations of trafficked children in Thailand

UNICEF in Action

UNICEF focuses its child protection efforts in three areas:

• Prevention. One important means for prevention is to ensure that all children, especially girls, complete their education and are able to engage in viable and non-exploitative employment when they are older. Promoting life skills and child rights education, addressing attitudes that regard women and children as subordinate and ensuring that dysfunctional families have access to support are also ways for bolstering prevention.
• Protection, with a focus on strengthening countries’ laws and law enforcement. UNICEF works with governments to ensure that the police and the judiciary treat children as victims of sexual exploitation in need of care and assistance – and not as criminals.
• Recovery and reintegration involves reaching children who have been sexually exploited, extracting them from the situation, providing them with services and support, and finding long-term solutions for their safe return and reintegration into their families and communities.






Country situation

Problem and nature of sexual violence against children in Pacific countries: Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu


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