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Child Prostitution: Ancient and Modern Evil, Research Paper Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1749

Research Paper

Abstract

There are few practices within any society as overwhelmingly despised as that of child prostitution. By no means a new phenomenon, the business of exploiting children sexually for monetary gain has been a cultural evil for thousands of years, and in virtually every corner of the globe. That it continues today, even as child prostitution is generally abhorred as a crime that is unspeakable on several levels, is a disgrace to any civilized society. The long history of child prostitution only serves to reinforce the urgent need to put an end to it, and by means of turning attention completely to those who seek child prostitutes.

Definition and History

As has been effectively argued in forums around the world, the term “child prostitution” is something of an oxymoron, because prostitution implies a sense of a choice made. Historically, and despite variations in national ages of consent and/or majority status, adulthood is considered the defining quality; it is accepted that only an adult can make an informed decision in regard to  a choice involving sexual activity.

The business of adult prostitution is legal in some countries, such as the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Greece. In North America, Mexico has legal prostitution, while only certain rural parts of Nevada permit it in the United States. There are also shades of legality at play; some nations freely allow prostitution, but the act of procuring clients is illegal. These global variations aside, the fact remains that, however disagreeable or disruptive the business of prostitution may be, most countries acknowledge that is it typically a “victimless” crime, if indeed they view it as a crime at all.

The basic element of children being employed for sexual purposes changes everything, not unexpectedly. Child prostitution goes under several names, such as “juvenile prostitution” and “adolescent prostitution”, but these distinctions are not merely synonyms; they point to crucial age factors within the crime, as well as to a difference in customer motivations. That notwithstanding, child prostitution basically refers to an under-age boy or girl selling sexual activity for gain, whether independently or through an agent, or procurer.

Other forms of sexually-related child abuse, most often child pornography, are frequently discussed under the banner of child prostitution. The practice by itself, however, is both specific and ancient. “Throughout history, children have been sought as prostitutes. In ancient Rome and Greece, prepubescent boys were especially popular in brothels” (Clark et al, 2007, p. 69).  Asian cultures predating early European civilizations notoriously engaged in the selling of sex by young girls. As centuries passed, the business remained strong, and London, England in the 19th century was a particularly and infamously busy location for the trade: “…In 1876, there were more than 20,000 children living on the streets and the young age of street walkers was a feature of prostitution in London” (Cossins, 2000, p. 7).

Today, knowing the actual extent of child prostitution is difficult; the activity is marginalized and generally disdained by even the more typical criminal element, even that which deals in sexual commerce, and the business is so shadowed and diffused that statistics are not easily had. “Globally, as many as 10 million children may be the victims of child prostitution… although accurate statistics are not available” (Mash, Wolfe, 2008, p. 438). Children go missing all the time and it is not known if they either enter into child prostitution as a last recourse for survival and with some element of choice made, or fall into the hands of those who compel them to. All that can be safely known is that the business of children selling themselves for sex is ongoing, and on a worldwide level.

Causes and Complications

As has been mentioned, child prostitution is rarely viewed, either by the public or by officials dealing with it, as an isolated criminal activity. Adult prostitution, particularly in regard to women, is marked by complications of abuse, poverty, and addiction as motivating agents, all of which dilute the adult element of choice in the field. With children, however, there are other factors at play, and in addition to those affecting adult prostitutes.

Simply put, children, and even adolescents, are not empowered to be independent and self-sufficient because of the basic reality of being unemployable. This is true, aside from the ethical or legal considerations involving working children, anyway. As children, they are too young to secure jobs. Consequently, there are only meager options available for the child who has no family or support system. It is no accident that a vast percentage of runaway children and teens turn to prostitution; as dire as it is, and as horrific as the circumstances are, it is one field in which their extreme youth can be turned to monetary gain. Moreover, as the venues for underage prostitution are usually shifting in terms of place and access for survival purposes, the abandoned or runaway child who turns to prostitution has another incentive: it keeps them out of the mainstream society in which they might otherwise be apprehended, and sent back to the environment they ran from.

As hopeless as the above scenario is, there is a further cause of child prostitution, one not involving any choice at all made by the child, and one as well virtually impossible to effectively document. As mentioned, missing children is a huge social problem, and not least because, in many cases, the facts of the absences are never ascertained. Children are presumed to have run away, when they have in fact been abducted. “Some estimates are that as many as 150,000 juveniles are reported missing and presumed kidnapped each year” (Flowers, 1998, p. 105). That the actual reasons for the disappearances are largely unknown is hardly surprising, given that the fates of these children are commonly never known as well. What is most certainly true is that many children are literally stolen and forced to prostitute themselves.

Further complicating the criminality and the societal nightmare of child prostitution are the array of exploitations, usually sexual in nature, children then either submit to or engage in by force. Adult prostitutes not uncommonly perform in pornography as well; it is essentially a variation of the occupation in that sex is engaged in for money. Here, however, that component of adult choice comes into play, and more forcefully. Even the most vulnerable adult, the man or women psychologically abused to an incapacitated extent, or addicted to drugs, has the striking advantage of adult status. Moreover, adults can move through the world with an obviously keener sense of how it operates, and what options are available to them. Children have none of these advantages, and it is unlikely that the child who, through desperate need or coercion, engages in prostitution would be in any way empowered to make a “choice” about doing pornography. In all arenas where children and sexual activity are connected, the child is consistently victimized, simply because they are incapable of independent control.

The Client Factor

Obviously, child prostitution could not be a commercially worthwhile field were there not a reliable customer base for it. It is tempting to assert here that this base must be composed of deviant mentalities, and it typically is. However, cultures and societal norms throughout history are equally to blame, as circumstances have reshaped moralities.

Ancient Grecian and Roman societies, for instance, did not view sex with children as a necessarily deviant, or even improper, behavior. The warlike nature of the Romans created, and for centuries, a structure wherein the men were away for long periods of time and it was accepted that they would have boys with them, to satisfy needs both emotional and sexual. Then, economic concerns have frequently rendered child prostitution an accepted, if not wholly desirable, element within a society. In Thailand, and recently, great attention has been drawn to the market for sex with children, which flourished as poor farmers required the income derived from sending their young daughters into prostitution. It goes on, rather openly, today: “What is clear is that the trade in children (in Thailand) is a lucrative and expanding business, and a quick source of cash for agents and parents” (Van Esterik, 2000, p. 177).

Nonetheless, and with all societal factors notwithstanding, clearly a certain pathology must be involved for child prostitution to be the historically profitable business it is. In the 19th century, a good deal of speculation was made which moved the responsibility onto the children themselves; juveniles who prostituted themselves were suspected as harboring deeply disturbed motives and unnatural preoccupations with sex. While there most certainly must be such instances, this sort of transferring of agenda from the exploiters to the blatantly vulnerable is a flimsy and desperate rationale. The inescapable fact remains that child prostitution makes money because men and women exist who, for clearly abnormal reasons, desire sex with those too young to be sexually mature.

Conclusion

No society which holds itself as civilized can, in any regard, condone child prostitution. It is a practice utterly dependent upon the unnatural factor of sexual conduct with those not physically or emotionally prepared for it, and this practice is compounded in its inherent evil by virtue of its commercial foundation. “Sexual misuse and exploitation of children as young as three has become a multimillion dollar industry in America, with child prostitution accounting for a large chunk of illicit revenue” (Flowers, 1994, p. 81). Sadly, since that statement was made, the Internet has enabled an untold number of new avenues in which children may be sexually employed for profit.

If there is any means by which to effectively combat the evil of child prostitution, it must derive from, not the children, but the clients. Moreover, it must be acknowledged that the issue is vastly different from that of adult prostitution, where the innate accountability of adulthood may be seen as rendering it a mutually consensual activity. Children may not consent because they have no power of choice to begin with, and it is the adult population which must completely answer to what drives so insidious and exploitative a criminal enterprise.

References

Clark, R. E., Clark, J. F., and Adamec, C. A.  (2007.) The Encyclopedia of Child Abuse. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing.

Cossins, A.  (2000.) Masculinities, Sexualities, and Child Abuse. Cambridge, MA: Kluwer Law International.

Flowers, R. B. (1994). The Victimization and Exploitation of Women and Children. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Flowers, R. B. (1998.) The Prostitution of Women and Girls. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Mash, E. J., and Wolfe, D. A. (2008.)  Abnormal Child Psychology. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.

Van Esterik, P. (2000.)  Materializing Thailand. New York, NY: Berg Publishers.

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