Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Youth in South Africa*

Article excerpt

This article provides an overview of commercial exploitation, with a focus on commercial sexual exploitation of Black children and youth in South Africa. A literature review on research on the labor exploitation among youth globally and in South Africa and on the commercial sexual exploitation of South African youth is presented first. International and national policy proclamations related to South African youth are highlighted. Second, findings from a study of Black South African youth who engaged in commercial sexual activities in Cape Town are presented. Third, conclusions and recommendations to consider the complex social, educational, economic, and political aspects of child exploitation are offered. This includes implications for further research, policy, and programs to assist this group of youth and their families.

The benefits of economic globalization, internationalization, and free trade have brought with them an unanticipated set of social problems. Among them is a dramatic rise world-wide in the incidence of child exploitation. Child sexual exploitation is one of the most virulent forms of this exploitation and includes child sexual abuse. Commercial sexual exploitation of children, is the other, and includes child pornography, juvenile prostitution, trafficking in children for sexual purposes, and child sex tourism (Estes, 2002).

This article provides an overview of commercial exploitation of Black children and youth in South Africa, with an emphasis on commercial sexual exploitation. First, it includes a literature review in three areas: (a) labor exploitation among youth globally and in South Africa; (b) commercial sexual exploitation of South African youth; and (c) international and national proclamations related to South African youth. This includes abbreviated information from policy proclamations such as the South African Constitution, the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, World Declaration of the Survival, Protection, and Development of Children, and the Declaration and Agenda for Action by the World Congress against Commercial Exploitation of Children.

Second, selected findings from ethnographic research on Black urban street youth who engaged in commercial sexual activities in Cape Town, South Africa, are presented. Third, conclusions and recommendations to consider the complex social, educational, economic, and political aspects of child exploitation are offered. Major findings indicate that limited knowledge about HIV/AIDS did not translate into safer sexual practices. This includes implications for further research, policy, and programs to assist this group of youth and their families.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Labor Exploitation among Youth Globally and in South Africa

The International Labor Organization (ILO) in May 2002 found that 179 million children worldwide are exposed to the worst forms of child exploitation-labor, slavery, debt bondage, prostitution, pornography, drug trafficking, forced armed military conflict, and other illicit activities. These activities are self-explanatory although debt bondage may not be widely known. It refers to payment to an adult authority figure in a child's life in exchange for a child with the proviso that the child will have to earn the money back. The expectation of both child and parent (or guardian) is usually that the child will be released once the debt has been paid.

Regarding child labor, the widespread exploitation of millions of children in the workplace has become a global concern resulting in a worldwide effort to abolish child labor. The ILO reports that 250 million children, globally, between the ages of 5 and 14 are forced to work. Child labor is most widespread in Asia, an area where nearly 153 million children, over half of the global total, are forced to work under hazardous conditions (Budlender & Bosch, 2002).

South Africa has approximately 44 million people with one-third under 15 years of age, the age at which, legally a child in South Africa may begin work (United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, n. …