By Laura Prewitt
In this story:
Imagine you are a 12-year-old girl who has just been kicked out of her house. You have nobody to run to and no money to pay for food, clothing or shelter. You are approached by a middle-aged man who offers you enough money to survive the next two days by having sex with strangers. What would you do?
Perhaps at first you would refuse and try to find other work. But soon you realize you don't have enough education or skills for a job that will provide for your basic needs. You have little or no knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases, although you are told you should charge the client more for sex without a condom. A fellow child prostitute tells you things aren’t so bad. She claims she would rather die of a disease she picked up from being a prostitute than starve.
Of the many atrocities committed against the innocent youth of the world, the commercial sexual exploitation of children is perhaps the most appalling. Adults around the world are taking advantage of impoverished children whose desperate circumstances have caused them to be especially vulnerable to sexual abuse.
Children are forced to be sex slaves for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are sold by their parents to brothel owners who pretend to provide legitimate work or educational opportunities. Other times, children in poor or abusive families wind up on the streets where they are picked up and forced to work for brothel owners.
The problem is widespread from Africa to Asia. Two important factors that contribute to the problem of child prostitution are: the impact of AIDS on children and the thriving sex tourism industry.
AIDS creates a vicious cycle of death and loss of innocence, quality of life, and health. Especially in Africa and South Asia, the virus is spreading at an alarming rate, disintegrating families and leaving children to fend for themselves.
According to the United Nation's 2004 report on the AIDS epidemic, 39.4 million people are living with AIDS worldwide, 17.6 million of them women and 2.2 million of them children under age 15. In 2004, 3.1 million people died from causes related to AIDS.
When children are orphaned by AIDS, they lose financial support from their parents as well as moral or financial support from their community. Many AIDS orphans are forced to live on their own because nobody from the community will help them out of fear of catching the disease that killed their parents. These children are guilty by association, regardless if they are infected with AIDS or not.
Children whose parents have died from AIDS are more likely to become involved in commercial sex than other children. Without anybody to support their basic needs, orphans are forced to provide for themselves. They drop out of school because they have no money to pay for school fees, supplies or uniforms. Thus, children as young as 10 and 11 end up working for brothel owners who provide them with food and shelter.
The vicious cycle of infection and death continues as these children’s chances of getting the AIDS virus increases with every sexual encounter they have. It is a gross injustice that these children are born into a world of sickness that not only takes their parents but also leads them into lives of abuse and misery.
Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the areas hardest hit by AIDS in the world. This is partly due to the way women are treated. Young girls in many parts of Africa are taught at a young age that their job is to please men by becoming obedient wives. They cannot protect themselves against abuse from relatives or employers. This mistreatment teaches girls to have little respect for themselves, making them more vulnerable to exploitation.
When the deadly AIDS virus is combined with poverty, the quality of life for children decreases and their likelihood of becoming victims of sexual exploitation increases.
Pattaya, Thailand, is a popular destination for travelers looking for exotic landscapes. But some tourists go there for more sensual pleasures. It all started during the Vietnam War when this small fishing village became a getaway for American Marines stationed nearby who were intrigued by the beautiful Thai women. Ever since, the sex industry in Southeast Asia has continued to grow.
Currently in Vietnam, children working as prostitutes earn $1,000 per month, while the average monthly wage is $25 per month. Girls are moving from their small poverty-stricken villages to cities like Hanoi and Pattaya to make more money.
Travelers go on sex tours that are arranged by friends and coworkers before the trip or by local taxi drivers or waiters upon arrival. Sex tourists, usually from Western nations, justify their sexual activity with minors while abroad by claiming that the money they pay the children goes toward the children's living expenses. In reality, the brothel owner receives most of the money, therefore not improving the living conditions of the children at all.
Being abroad in a foreign or exotic land also gives these tourists a sense of freedom and anonymity that encourages them to be sexually irresponsible. Some clients even think that children are less likely to be carrying sexually transmitted diseases, which is untrue because these children are not usually untouched virgins. They have had many previous sexual encounters and likely are suffering from an STD.
According to UNICEF, 1 million children will enter the sex tourism industry next year. An estimated 1.2 million children were trafficked last year and exploited for various types of labor, including prostitution.
World Vision, an organization committed to improving children's lives, attributes the United States with 25 percent of the sex tourists who travel to areas such as Thailand. The United States passed a law under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994 declaring it illegal for any citizen to travel abroad with the intent to engage in sexual acts with a minor.
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