Commercial sexual exploitation of children

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Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is a commercial transaction that involves the sexual exploitation of a child, such as the prostitution of children, child pornography, including live streaming sexual abuse,[1][2][3][4] and the (often related) sale and trafficking of children.[5] CSEC may involve coercion and violence against children, economic exploitation, forced labour, contemporary slavery[5][6][7]

A declaration of the World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, held in Stockholm in 1996, defined CSEC as:

sexual abuse by the adult and remuneration in cash or kind to the child or a third person or persons. The child is treated as a sexual object and as a commercial object.[5]

CSEC includes child sex tourism and other forms of transactional sex where a child engages in sexual activities to have key needs fulfilled, such as food, shelter or access to education. It includes forms of transactional sex where the sexual abuse of children is not stopped or reported by household members, due to benefits derived by the household from the perpetrator. CSEC also potentially includes arranged marriages involving children under the age of consent, where the child has not freely consented to marriage and where the child is sexually abused.[citation needed]

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) states that roughly one out of every five girls and one out of every ten boys will be sexually exploited or abused before they become of age.[8] UNICEF says that child sexual exploitation is "one of the gravest infringements of rights that a child can endure".[7]

Child trafficking terminology[edit]

Child trafficking and CSEC sometimes overlap. On the one hand, children who are trafficked are often trafficked for the purposes of CSEC. However, not all trafficked children are trafficked for these purposes. Further, even if some of the children trafficked for other forms of work are subsequently sexually abused at work, this does not necessarily constitute CSEC. On the other hand, according to the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the definition of Severe Forms of Trafficking in Persons includes any commercial sex act performed by a person under the age of 18. This means that any minor who is commercially sexually exploited is defined as a trafficking victim, whether or not movement has taken place.[9] CSEC is also part of, but distinct from, child abuse, or even child sexual abuse. Child rape, for example, will not usually constitute CSEC. Neither will domestic violence.



Child pornography is prevalent on the international, national, regional, and local levels. The differences of production, distribution, producers, evasion techniques, and status are explained in figure one. Child pornography is a multibillion-dollar enterprise that includes photographs, books, audiotapes, videos and more. These images depict children performing sexual acts with other children, adults, and other objects. The children are subjected to exploitation, rape, pedophilia, and in extreme cases, murder.[10] Pornography is often used as a gateway into the sex trade industry. Many pimps force children into pornography as a way of conditioning them to believe that what they are doing is acceptable.[11] The pimps may then use the pornography to blackmail the child and extort money from clients.[11]

Fig.1 Child Pornography Points of Production [12]
International National Regional Local
Production Format State-of-art technology in audiovisual equipment, development, and mass reproduction process. Essentially the same as international. Private developing studios and labs; lower quality material. Lowest quality of all the markets; relies on retail level technology (instant cameras. Photostats). Direct purchase or exchange, mail.
Distribution Methods Mail, courier, direct sale. Adult bookstores, mail (commercial and Postal Service), direct sale. Mail (commercial, U.S.), direct purchase or exchange, adult bookstores. Direct purchase or exchange, mail.
Producers Syndicated sex rings, entrepreneurs, and freelance photographers. Organized crime and freelance pornographers. Primarily freelance pornographers, with some work hired out on contractual basis by local pimps or pedophiles. Community or neighborhood pedophiles, sex rings, and pimps.
Evasion Techniques Mobile production and development sites, false identities, multiple disguised mailings of merchandise. Use of middleman to arrange routine purchases, parental release form, and mobile production and developmental sites. Transient identities and locations of pornographers, rapid turnover in children used as models, and parental release forms. Victims coerced or blackmailed into silence; offender's mobility and good reputation often insulate from any suspicion.
Status Still available, with emphasis on use of Third World youths as models; periodic inroads into traffic by foreign police and U.S. federal law enforcement agencies; reactive nature of police investigations precludes permanent abolition of production and distribution Extremely resilient, despite harsh federal laws occasional disruption of the flow of merchandise. Resold in neighboring countries and exported to Asia, Europe, and Africa. Extremely difficult to intercept on proactive basis. Pimps and pornographers use juvenile hustlers and molested children as subjects. May later emerge in foreign publications. Parental consent binds guilty parties to secrecy; increasing emphasis on suggestive materials. Pornography made at the local level is the mainstay of the pedophilic subculture; typically discovered during police search or accidentally via postal investigations.

Live streaming sexual abuse[edit]

Child victims[13][14][15][16][17] of live streaming sexual abuse are trafficked and then raped or forced to perform sex acts on themselves or other children in real time in front of a webcam. They are usually forced to watch the paying consumers on shared screens and follow their orders.[18] It occurs in locations, commonly referred to as ‘cybersex dens,’ that can be in homes, hotels, offices, internet cafes, and other businesses.[19] Traffickers advertise children on the internet to obtain purchasers.[20] Overseas predators and pedophiles seek out and pay for these illicit services.[21][22][23] Perpetrators are motivated by money and or sexual gratification.[24][25]


Prostitution is known as one of the youngest professions. Nearly eighty percent of adult prostitutes entered the industry between eleven and fourteen (Cedeno, 2012, p. 157). Children forced or convinced to engage in prostitution often suffer irreparable damage to their physical and mental health. They face early pregnancy and risk sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV. They are often inadequately protected by the law and may be treated as criminals.[26][unreliable source]

Child sex tourism[edit]

Some people travel to engage in child sex tourism.[27] Sex tourism and sex trafficking both generate revenue for a country.[10] “The Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand is quoted as asking provincial governors ‘to consider the jobs that will be created .’” This encouragement from the government explains why some countries have low fines for engaging in the sex trade. Many travel agencies offer information and guides on exotic entertainment further encouraging men to travel for sexual purposes.[28] Sex tourists bring money to underdeveloped economies that rely on the exploitation of their women and children for revenue.[29]

Causes and dangers[edit]


The supply and demand for children in the sex trade industry is greatly influenced by the structure of a country. Kevin Bales says the increase of children sold into prostitution reflects the industrial transformation the country has experienced in the last fifty years. Young girls in Thailand are commonly from northern areas. Because of the harshness of the land and a family’s dependency on a good harvest many families see their daughters as commodities.[30]

On the macro-level of causes for child sexual exploitation is the globalization of the consumer market and the influx of new goods and services that encourage new forms of consumerism.[29] The amount of money offered to parents for their children is often too good to refuse because they are living at or below the poverty level. The children are turned over to the buyer without any knowledge of what they were sold into.[30]

Other macro-level influences include the expansion of construction sites and military bases in developing countries. These installations attract those who wish to sexually exploit children for large sums of money. The men who participate in the sexual exploitation of children at these installations are most often from developed countries and have no regard for the children.[29] "It has been alleged that military personnel figure at a disproportionately high rate in the pedophile exchange lists confiscated by some police departments."[28]

Families who sell their daughters to brothels tend to repeat the pattern with their younger daughters. The younger daughters, however, are more willing to go. This is because their older sisters tell them stories of their extravagant times in the city. The girls admire their sister's western clothes and money. The younger girls then enter into prostitution with little notion of what they are getting themselves into.[30]

Dangers and consequences[edit]

Whether the children be in pornography, brothels, or trafficked they are all at risk for sexually transmitted infections, physical violence, and psychological deterioration. Research has shown that “fifty to ninety percent of children in brothels in Southeast Asia are infected with HIV.[31]” In many cases when children are brought into the sex trade industry they are beaten and raped until they are so broken they no longer try to escape.[30] Physical hazards can also include infertility, cervical cancer, assault, and sometimes murder.[12] Pregnancy is also a physical risk factor for many children. Much like if they are found to have HIV or AIDS the girls are thrown out of the brothels with nowhere to go.[30] Many of the children “break the conscious link between mind and body” in order to function in these situations (Bales 221). By doing so, many children begin to think they are nothing more than "whores" and some develop suicidal thoughts.[29][30] Other psychological risk factors include sleep and eating disorders, gender-disturbed sexual identity, hysteria, and even homicidal rage.[12]

Outside physical and psychological dangers lies fear of the law. Many girls and women are illegally trafficked across borders. If they manage to escape from the brothel or pimp, the women and children quickly come to the attention of the authorities. Because they do not have proper documentation they are detained by the authorities. If they are held in local jails, the women and children often suffer further abuse and exploitation by the police.[30]


While it is impossible to know the true extent of the problem, given its illegal nature, International Labour Organization (ILO) global child labour figures for the year 2003 estimate that there are as many as 1.8 million children exploited in prostitution or pornography worldwide.[32]

The Rapid Assessment survey, developed by the ILO's International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) and UNICEF, relies on interviews and other, mainly qualitative, techniques, to provide a picture of a specific activity in a limited geographic area. It is a highly useful tool for collecting information on the worst forms of child labour, like CSEC, that is difficult to capture with standard quantitative surveys.[citation needed]

General knowledge offered to a child can decrease the likelihood of children being exploited into prostitution or pornography. A national campaign in Thailand provided "9 years of basic education, ... awareness-raising activities to change attitudes about child prostitution, and a surveillance system to prevent children from being coerced into prostitution."[33]

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimate that 2 million children are exploited in prostitution or pornography every year.[6]

Non-government organizations[edit]


ECPAT stands for end child prostitution and trafficking. As a non-government organization ECPAT is dedicated to finding ways to save children who are sexually exploited. Their vision is of a world free of child sexual exploitation.[34] One of their efforts includes the First World Congress against the Sexual Exploitation of Children hosted by the Swedish government. The Congress came up with an Agenda for Action which was framed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.[35]

ECPAT has also helped fund other non-government organizations to establish prevention programs in Thailand and other countries across the globe.[36] On top of funding, ECPAT also produces research reports on the state of child sexual exploitation.[34]

ECPAT offers a multitude of involvement opportunities. The cooperation encourages people across the globe to donate and fundraise with them in order to increase the funds used to rescue children and further research efforts. Their page also provides a link to report the commercial sexual exploitation of children. If you plan on travelling they encourage travelers to book with companies who have signed the “Code of Conduct for the protection of children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism.[34]” Certain businesses and organizations may be eligible to become members of ECPAT. By doing so, organizations can further their efforts to aid against the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Most importantly ECPAT encourages everyone to stay informed about the global issue of child sexual exploitation.[34]

World Vision[edit]

Chicago World Vision team

World Vision is another non-government organization with many areas of impact. World Vision works to address the causes of why child protection is necessary. World Vision educates children who are prime targets to be trafficked. They inform them of the schemes used to lure them into slavery and what trafficking entails. This education empowers the children to have access to education, food, and shelter. World Vision offers many opportunities for citizens to get involved. Their opportunities include sponsoring a child, raising awareness to lawmakers, volunteering at World Vision events, and many more.[37]

International agreements[edit]

All United Nations member states except for the United States are parties to the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which in Article 34 commits countries to prohibiting inducement or coercion of children into unlawful sex acts, prostitution, or pornography.[36]" The vast majority of countries (which in this case includes the United States) have also ratified the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography which has more detailed commitments on the protection of children in these areas, including reporting and monitoring.[35] UNICEF assisted in the creation of a handbook for the Protocol.[citation needed]

The same committee that put the Protocol into action has put more effort into acquiring more accurate data on child sexual exploitation. The 2012 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons shows that with the Protocol in place countries without a child sexual exploitation offense have nearly halved. At the regional level, criminal convictions of trafficking offenses have increased.[when?][38]

On top of the Protocol a Global Plan of Action has been instated.[by whom?] This plan involves strengthening the abilities of law enforcement to identify victims of trafficking, enhance investigations of alleged cases, and prosecute and punish the many corrupt officials who partake in sex trafficking and tourism.[39]

Prevention through education[edit]

Theater about sexual violence against children in Coronel Fabriciano, Brazil.

One of the many ways to aid in the prevention of child sexual exploitation is through education. World Vision [40] is one of the leaders in educating young girls on the dangers of trafficking and educating them on what they would really be getting themselves into.[37] Other efforts involve educating police personnel. The Family Planning Association of Nepal hosted a training session for the local police on how to handle a trafficking situation and how to identify women and children in sexual exploitative situations.[41] Public education is also a must. Because child sexual exploitation is driven by demand it is “crucial to raise the perceptions of consumers about the harm that is caused.[42]” It has been suggested that public shutdowns of those who operate sex tours could influence deterrence.[42] Other efforts include simply educating potential victims about the tactics recruiters often use.[43] The previously mentioned Protocol requires members to provide preventative measures against child sexual exploitation; among these preventative measures is educating the public, especially families, on the dangers of sex tourism and trafficking.

See also[edit]

Relevant ILO Conventions and Recommendations


  1. ^ Brown, Rick; Napier, Sarah; Smith, Russell G (2020), Australians who view live streaming of child sexual abuse: An analysis of financial transactions, Australian Institute of Criminology, ISBN 9781925304336 pp. 1–4.
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  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ a b Gerdes, Louise I.; Brian M. Willis; Barry S. Levy (2006). Prostitution and sex trafficking: opposing viewpoints. Detroit: Greenhaven Press.
  8. ^ U.S. Department of Justice (2007). Commercial sexual exploitation of children: what do we know and what do we do about it?. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
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  40. ^ World Vision website
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Further reading[edit]

  • Alisa Jordheim (2014). Made in the U.S.A.: The Sex Trafficking of America's Children. HigherLife Publishing. ISBN 978-1939183408.

External links[edit]