Academic journal article Social Policy Journal of New Zealand

A Review of Literature on Child Prostitution

Academic journal article Social Policy Journal of New Zealand

A Review of Literature on Child Prostitution

Article excerpt

Child prostitution has received little attention, in New Zealand or elsewhere, until the past decade, and there is still a paucity of research. Significant barriers to systematic research and understanding of the issues are the invisibility of under-age prostitutes, problems defining what constitutes under-age prostitution, and the lack of services for the children affected. Workers in services for youth at risk are aware of significant and increasing numbers of young people selling sex, commonly for survival, and research with adult sex workers indicates that significant proportions commence sex work as children. Internationally there appear to be few services assisting under-age prostitutes or working specifically to reduce this form of child abuse, and in New Zealand only one service (in South Auckland) has been funded specifically to work with this target group. This paper reviews the available literature on the issues and recent efforts to address the problem.



Because of the relative lack of public discussion until recently on the issue of child prostitution, in New Zealand and elsewhere, there has been a paucity of systematic research or literature on this topic. New Zealander Ron O'Grady has increased awareness of child prostitution locally with his three books--The Rape of the Innocent (1996), The ECPAT Story (1996) and The Hidden Shame of the Church (2001)--all of which deal with aspects of child prostitution and paedophilia. However, these books are based on news reports and anecdotal experience rather than research.

The information included in this review has been derived from a range of sources, including the personal experiences of the authors as researchers, personal communications with children engaged in sex work and with people working with them, and data from books and other written sources, as well as from documented research.


In New Zealand, under-age sex (under 12 years of age) is viewed as statutory rape under the Crimes Act 1961, sections 132 and 133. When a child is aged between 12 and 16 it is a defence if the child consented, if the perpetrator is younger, or if the child consented and the perpetrator is under age 21 and believed that the child was over 16. When the sexual interaction with a child involves money and goods it is illegal under Section 134 of this Act. Section 144a of the Crimes Amendment Act 1995 sets legal constraints on people in relation to sexual conduct with children when outside New Zealand, and the organising and promotion of sex "tours" is explicitly banned in Section 144c of the Crimes Amendment Act 1995.

The implementation of the Prostitution Reform Bill will enable amendments to the Crimes Act 1961 to fully ratify the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention adopted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in June 1999. The "worst forms" of child labour addressed by the Convention include all forms of slavery, prostitution and pornography, and the use of children for illicit activities and work likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. However, the passing of the Prostitution Reform Bill will not itself address the exploitation of children, or the economic and social injustices on which under-age prostitution feeds (Davidson 1998).


Defining child prostitution or the commercial sexual exploitation of children is a difficult task, with variations across legal, research, media, policy and individual perspectives (Kelly et al. 1995). Children involved in commercial sexual activity may well define their activities very differently than how clients and pimps define those activities, or than older sex workers, or indeed than social workers, the police, or people involved in intervention or prevention services. Due to a desire to shift the focus from sex to exploitation, commercial sexual exploitation has sometimes been included under child labour provisions, but all these definitions pose limitations (Kelly et al. …

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