Child prostitution is defined as the use of a child in sexual activities for financial purposes.
The global leader in the fight against child prostitution is ECPAT, which stands for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes. It came to prominence in the late 20th century for its work towards the elimination of these activities.
One of the first national media exposés of child prostitution occurred in July 1885 in the London newspaper the Pall Mall Gazette, when a series of articles claimed to have uncovered a trade in young girls for the capital's brothels. The sensational Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon stories created one of the first national outbreaks of panic about child prostitution. This account entrenched the depiction of children and young people involved in commercial sex as abducted and betrayed innocents.
The articles and the events surrounding them provided the crucial force in Britain to ensure the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. This increased the age of sexual consent from 13 to 16. The balance between control and protection was to become a lasting feature of the debates on child prostitution and the subject of youthful delinquency.
Reports in the late 19th century in Britain and the United States concerning the abuse of children saw the establishment of numerous charitable organizations, which continue to highlight the lives, situations and plight of poor and exploited children. One of the best sources of evidence on child prostitution is the archive of children's charities. These strived to define and separate delinquents from normal children and all associated concepts of dirt, independence and in particular sexual knowledge and experience. In the past, children who were believed to have sexual experience, many as a result of sexual abuse, were placed in institutions for children viewed to have knowledge of evil.
In the 1800s, it was considered that once a girl had become sexually experienced, she was perceived to be tainted and untrustworthy. In Britain, it was not until the period between the two world wars that many feminist and child welfare organizations sought to explain sexual precociousness in young girls as an outcome of abuse. This was in contrast to the narrow portrayal of immoral girls inviting and seducing older men.
The international traffic in children and adolescents has attracted a variety of actions. The League of Nations set up a committee in 1919 to gather information regarding the national and international trafficking of prostitutes. The work of this committee was later taken over by the United Nations. In 1953, the U.N. amended the League of Nations Slavery Convention of 1926, which highlighted the human rights issues of slavery and slavery-like practices.
During the 20th century, international organizations including the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labour Organization joined the fight against child prostitution. Article 34 of the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child calls for appropriate action to prevent the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in unlawful sexual activity. In the late 20th century, extra-territorial legislation sought to enable countries to prosecute their citizens for sexually abusing children while overseas. This law was created in the wake of increased child abuse carried on through a commercial sex trade catering to tourists. This subject was one of the main points of the 1996 First Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, which was organized by ECPAT, UNICEF, and the non-governmental Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The tendency for negative perceptions has led to assumptions about what child prostitutes are, so that they have been seen as sexually assertive, independent and immoral. Over the course of the 20th century, discourses about child sexual abuse were being constructed, while those relating to child prostitution lead to condemnation of the child and in some cases, criminalization. These views went unchallenged until child prostitution was ranked alongside child abuse. The clients came to be considered child abusers and pedophiles, which should be subject to child protection legislation.
The Sexual Exploitation Act of 1978 prohibits the transportation of children across state lines for purposes of sexual exploitation. Other federal laws prohibit child prostitution and pornography. Child prostitution is illegal throughout the United States, while the Mann Act of 1910 prohibits the interstate transportation of women or girls for commercial sexual purposes. A 1986 revision of this act expanded its terms to include all genders and non-commercial activities.