Sexual Exploitation of Children—A Worldwide Problem
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN SWEDEN
Human society is being shaken by a shocking form of child abuse that is of a scope and nature not widely known until recent years. To see what could be done about it, representatives of 130 nations met in Stockholm, Sweden, at the first World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. An Awake! correspondent in Sweden was also there.
WHEN Magdalen was 14, she was lured into a job as a “hostess” in a beer house in Manila, the Philippines. Actually, her work involved taking male customers to a small room and baring her body for their sexual exploitation—an average of 15 men a night and 30 on Saturdays. Sometimes, when she said that she could not cope with it anymore, her manager would force her to continue. She often ended her day at four in the morning, feeling exhausted, depressed, and miserable.
Sareoun was a young orphaned street boy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He had syphilis and was known to have ‘gone out’ with foreigners. He was given living quarters in a pagoda, where he was to be ‘looked after’ by an ex-monk. This man, however, sexually abused the boy and procured him for sex with foreigners. When Sareoun’s living quarters in the pagoda were demolished, he began living with his aunt but was still forced to work on the street.
These are but two examples of the terrible problem dealt with late last year at the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. How widespread is this practice? Hundreds of thousands of children are involved—indeed, some say millions. One delegate summarized the problem: “Children are bought and sold as sexual and economic commodities. They are trafficked within and across borders like contraband, imprisoned in brothels and forced to submit to large numbers of sex exploiters.”
In his opening statement to the gathering, Sweden’s prime minister, Göran Persson, stamped this exploitation as “the most brutal, the most savage and disgusting category of crime.” A United Nations representative said it “is an assault on children on all fronts . . . , is totally vile and is the most contemptible violation of human rights imaginable.” Many similar expressions of outrage at the sexual exploitation of children were voiced from the rostrum throughout the congress as the scope, nature, causes, and effects of it were considered.
“Its scope is transnational, its impact transgenerational,” one source put it. Another stated: “An estimated 1 million children are believed to enter the multibillion-dollar illegal sex market each year.” With what effect? “Children’s sense of dignity, identity and self-esteem is undermined and their capacity for trust dulled. Their physical and emotional health is put at risk, their rights violated and their futures jeopardized.”
What are some causes of the explosive growth of this problem? It was stated that some children are “pushed into prostitution by circumstances, as a way of surviving on the streets, helping to support their families, or to pay for clothes and goods. Others are seduced by the bombardment of consumer images in the advertising media.” Still others are kidnapped and forced into prostitution. The rapid erosion of moral values everywhere, as well as a general sense of hopelessness, were mentioned among the causes.
Many girls and boys become involved in the sex trade because of family abuse—violence and incest at home drive them out onto the street. There, they are at risk of abuse by pedophiles and others, even, it appears, by some policemen. A report on the problem entitled Kids for Hire tells about six-year-old Katia, in Brazil. When she was caught by a policeman, he forced her to perform indecent acts and threatened to kill her family if she told his chief. The next day he came back with five other men, all of whom wanted her to perform the same sexual service for them.
The Children’s Ombudsman, a Swedish institution, told the delegates: “When studies have been done on what causes child prostitution, there is no doubt that [sex] tourism is one of the major causes.” A report said: “The incredible escalation of child prostitution over the last ten years is directly caused by the tourism trade. Child prostitution is the newest tourist attraction offered by developing countries.” “Sex tours” from Europe, the United States, Japan, and elsewhere create a great demand for child prostitutes throughout the world. A European airline used a cartoon drawing of a child in a sexually explicit pose to sell sex tours. Travel agencies arrange sex tours for thousands every year.
Also on the long list of causes is the international promotion of the child-sex industry through new technology. The Internet, combined with other related computer technologies, is reported to be the single largest source of pornography. Low-priced video equipment has likewise facilitated the production of child pornography.
Who Are They?
Many of the adults who sexually abuse children are pedophiles. A pedophile has a perverted sexual attraction to children. According to the Children’s Ombudsman of Sweden, “they are not necessarily aging, slovenly men in raincoats or violent macho types. A typical pedophile is a well educated middle-aged man, often working with children as a teacher, doctor, social-worker or a priest.”
The Swedish group brought up the example of Rosario, a 12-year-old Filipino girl who was sexually abused by a sex tourist, a doctor from Austria. His abuse resulted in her death.
Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) at Geneva, stated the following regarding the 12-year-old Filipino girl: “It is often the very adults entrusted with the care and protection of the children who permit and perpetuate this intolerable practice. There are teachers, health professionals, police officers, politicians, and members of the clergy who use their prestige and authority to sexually exploit children.”
A delegate of the Roman Catholic Church at the Stockholm congress declared that exploitation of children is the “most heinous of crimes” and a “result of profound distortion and the breakdowns of values.” Yet, the Catholic Church has been severely affected by such practices among its own clergy.
In the August 16, 1993, issue of Newsweek, an article entitled “Priests and Abuse” reported on “the worst clerical scandal in the modern history of the U.S. Catholic Church.” It stated: “While allegations have been lodged against an estimated 400 priests since 1982, some churchmen extrapolate that as many as 2,500 priests have molested children or teenagers. . . . More than money, the scandal has cost the church severe embarrassment—and some of its moral authority.” Other religions throughout the world are in the same situation.
Ray Wyre, a sex-crime consultant from the United Kingdom, told the Stockholm congress about two boys who had been sadistically abused by a priest. One of the boys is now running an agency for victims of child abuse by priests, and the other is himself an abuser.
Mettanando Bhikkhu, a Buddhist scholar from Thailand, reported that “certain types of Buddhist practice share a responsibility for the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Thailand on several levels. In local villages in Thailand, monks have sometimes benefited from the money returned to the community by children who have been forced into prostitution.”
What Can Be Done?
Dr. Julia O’Connell Davidson, of Leicester University in the United Kingdom, called on the congress to challenge the exploiters’ justification of their behavior. Abusers often focus on the supposed sexual looseness and immorality of the child, arguing that the child is already dirty and spoiled. Other exploiters use the twisted and false claim that no harm will result from their acts and that the child benefited.
A panel dealing with sex tourism recommended combating it through education in school curricula. In addition, information against sexual exploitation of children should reach travelers throughout the whole trip—before departure, during travel, and at the destination.
Regarding the new communication technologies, a panel suggested that nations should be provided with guidelines for the elimination of material that exploits children. The establishment of a single international agency to coordinate activity in this field was considered. Another panel recommended that computer-generated child pornography and the possession of child pornography in general should be made criminal offenses in all countries, with punishment prescribed by law.
What can parents do? A panel dealing with the role of the media suggested that parents take responsibility for protecting their children. It stated: “Parents can not only guide children as they develop as media consumers but provide additional context, explanation and diversity of sources of information to balance the impact of media and help the child to grow in understanding.”
A Swedish TV program reporting on the congress stressed the need for parents to keep better watch over their children and to alert them to the dangers. However, it advised: “Don’t just warn children against ‘dirty old men,’ because children . . . thus think they should watch out for only elderly, slovenly men, while a person who commits such crimes could very well be dressed in a uniform or a neat suit. Thus, warn them against strangers who take unusual interest in them.” Of course, children should also be warned about—and urged to report to authorities—any person making improper advances toward them, including people they know.
The Only Solution
What the Stockholm congress could not suggest was how to overcome the causes of sexual exploitation of children. These include rapidly eroding moral values everywhere; increasing selfishness and craving for material things; growing disrespect for laws made to protect people from injustice; increasing disregard for the well-being, dignity, and life of others; rapid breakdown of the family arrangement; widespread poverty due to overpopulation, unemployment, urbanization, and migration; growing racism against foreigners and refugees; ever-growing production of and trafficking in drugs; and depraved religious views, practices, and traditions.
Although sexual exploitation of children is shocking, such badness is not surprising to careful Bible readers. Why so? Because we are now living in what the Bible calls “the last days” and, according to God’s Word, “critical times hard to deal with” are here. (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13) So is it any wonder that morals have gone from bad to worse?
However, the Bible points forward to the only solution to the world’s huge problems—a total cleanup by Almighty God. Soon he will manifest his power and remove all those on earth who do not abide by his righteous principles and laws: “The upright are the ones that will reside in the earth, and the blameless are the ones that will be left over in it. As regards the wicked, they will be cut off from the very earth.”—Proverbs 2:21, 22; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9.
Those “cut off” will include all who make prostitutes of children and corrupt people who misuse children. God’s Word states: “Neither fornicators . . . nor adulterers . . . nor men who lie with men [or boys] . . . will inherit God’s kingdom.” (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10) It adds that “those who are disgusting in their filth . . . and fornicators” will be consigned to “the second death”—eternal destruction.—Revelation 21:8.
God will cleanse the earth and usher in a completely new and just system of things, “new heavens and a new earth.” (2 Peter 3:13) Then, in that new world of his making, corrupt, perverted people will never again take advantage of innocent ones. And never again will the innocent have to fear being victimized, for “there will be no one making them tremble.”—Micah 4:4.
[Blurb on page 12]
“The most savage and disgusting category of crime.”—Sweden’s prime minister
[Blurb on page 13]
“Every week, 10 million to 12 million men visit young prostitutes.”—The Economist, London
[Blurb on page 14]
Sex tourism is a major cause of child exploitation in developing countries
[Box on page 13]
(Some reasons why tourists engage in sex with children)
(1) The anonymity that the tourist enjoys releases him from the social constraints of home
(2) Because of little or no understanding of the local language, tourists can easily be misled into believing that paying for sex with a child is accepted or is a way to help children out of poverty
(3) Racist attitudes make visitors exploit others whom they consider inferior
(4) Tourists feel rich when they see that sexual services are easily affordable in developing countries
[Box on page 15]
The Worldwide Scope of the Problem
(The following are estimates by various government authorities and other organizations)
Brazil: At least 250,000 child prostitutes
Canada: Thousands of teenage girls are being prostituted by organized pimp rings
China: From 200,000 to 500,000 prostituted children. In recent years about 5,000 Chinese girls have been lured across the border and sold as prostitutes in Myanmar
Colombia: The number of children sexually exploited on the streets of Bogotá has quintupled in the last seven years
Eastern Europe: 100,000 street children. Many are sent to brothels in Western Europe
India: 400,000 children involved in the sex industry
Mozambique: Aid agencies accused UN peacekeeping troops of sexually exploiting children
Myanmar: 10,000 girls and women are transported to brothels in Thailand each year
Philippines: 40,000 children involved
Sri Lanka: 10,000 children ages 6 to 14 enslaved in brothels and 5,000 ages 10 to 18 working independently in tourist resorts
Taiwan: 30,000 children involved
Thailand: 300,000 children involved
United States: Official sources speak of more than 100,000 children involved