Development & Aid, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Health, Population

UNITED NATIONS: Rising Demand For Child Sex Blamed on AIDS

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 14 1996 (IPS) - The United Nations is blaming a rising global demand for child sex on the spread of acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Fear of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is primarily responsible for “the spiralling effect of demand for younger and younger children,” says Ofelia Calcetas-Santos, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights.

In a 25-page study on child prostitution released Thursday, Calcetas-Santos says that misconceptions about the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases may encourage men to select younger girls in the mistaken belief they are less likely to contract the deadly disease.

“Children used to be substitutes for adult prostitutes; now, however, there is marked increase of preference for children over adults, pushing up the worth of children in the sex market,” the study says.

According to the latest U.N. figures, an estimated 21.8 million adults and children are infected with the AIDS virus. In 1995 alone, 1.3 million, including 300,000 children, died of AIDS.

Pointing out that “children are getting more and more vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation,” the study says that the traditional pimps and brothel-keepers are now being replaced by members of organised crime, tour organisers, corrupt admiministration officials, traffickers, and middle people.

The study also complains that the disparity in the laws of different countries have become “insurmoundable barriers” to effective prosecution of paedophiles.

In related study, the United Nations has also focused on the growing trade in child prostitution in Cambodia.

“Cambodia is now advertised on the Internet as a desirable place for paedophiles interested in young boys,” says U.N. Special Representative Thomas Hammarberg of Sweden.

Hammarberg says that trafficking of children is rapidly becoming a serious human rights problem in Cambodia.

In many individual cases, the problem is being characterised as one of “slavery and trade in human flesh”– “practices that shockingly are on the increase not only in Cambodia but also in many parts of the world at the end of the 20th century.”

In his 35-page study on Cambodia, the Special Representative blames the Cambodian government for the lack of legal action against persons involved in child trafficking and owners of brothels.

“Though child prostitutes are seen sitting openly in front of brothels in many parts of Phnom Penh and in other provinces, police action is rare,” the report notes.

P.Sudhakaran, a U.N. photographer who served in Cambodia in 1992-93 says there is a misconception that prostitution came to Phnom Penh along with the U.N. peacekeeping force sent to that war- torn country in March 1992.

“As everyone knows, prostitution is one of the world’s oldest professions,” Sudhakaran told IPS. “The U.N. peacekeeping force had nothing to do with the rise in prostitution.”

Cambodian newspapers have linked the rise in child prostitution to the presence of U.N. soldiers during 1992-93. The Cambodian National Assembly adopted a law in January which includes substantial criminal penalties for anyone involved in the purchase, sale, or kidnapping of another person. Enhanced prison terms are included if the victim is less than 15 years old.

But the U.N. report says none of the domestic laws appear to establish a uniform legal age for a child. There is also no legally established age for sexual consent in Cambodia.

There are many root causes for the increase in child prostitution and trafficking. As with the traffic and trade in illicit narcotics, the “demand” must be recognised as an integral part of the problem, the study notes.

“There would be no problem of child prostitution or trafficking of children if there was not a strong market for these children,” the report says.

The United Nations identifies “poverty and its attendant consequences” as an important supply-side cause of child prostitution. “Children are sold into prostitution by parents in dire economic circumstances,” it adds.

Thailand, a country engaged in a longstanding battle against prostitution, says the root causes of the problem lay in global demand and supply.

“The alarming rate of increase in sexual exploitation of children in the world, including Thailand, was significantly attributable to the growth of international tourism,” says Thai Ambassador Asa Jayanama.

At the global level, he says, Thailand has urged countries whose nationals were involved in “sex tourism” to criminalise the acts of their nationals when they sexually exploit children in other countries.

Countries, including Sweden and Belgium, have approved laws and regulations to exert punitive actions against their citizens involved with illegal child prostitutes while traveling abroad.

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