In a recent article (see below), Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times observed a raid on a brothel using child prostitutes in Kolkata, India conducted by the International Justice Mission. While I find Mr. Kristoff's participation in the raid an unnecessary and not too insightful example of ethnographic reporting, I do understand that the experience allowed him to personalize and give a name to at least some of the estimated 1.8 million children engaged, or perhaps more accurately stated, 'enslaved,' in the sex trade each year as reported by Unicef.
While many of these young girls and boys are indeed abducted by strangers and sold into prostitution, enticed by greedy foreigners or tricked into leaving home by 'friends of friends' with promises of paid employment in peoples' homes or other kinds of legitimate if not high paying work, some are actually given up willingly by parents, often excruciatingly poor parents, who receive cash in exchange for their offspring. Still other children follow in a family tradition of prostitution. Even when offered free schooling, they may return to their parents trade (as can be seen in the documentary, 'Born Into Brothels,' by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski); whether for reasons of filial piety, overall family loyalty or fear of unknown sanctions, religious, social or otherwise, it is always not clear.
In the book, 'Abandoned Children,' edited by Catherine Panter-Brick and Malcolm T. Smith, is an entry by Heather Montgomery entitled, "Abandonment and child prostitution in a Thai slum community." Montgomery interviewed fifty child prostitutes, boys and girls, over a 15 month period. These families lived in a rural community and had no land, no jobs and no access to social welfare. Though these children, some as young as six, did not like sex work they felt good using the money they earned to help their families. For example, a 12 year-old prostitute was elated at being able to rebuild her parent's house, saying she would 'make merit' for taking care of them. Montgomery wrote, "as a Buddhist she believed that the merit she gained from looking after her parents would accrue to her in her next incarnation and negate the effects of prostitution" (pg.191).
In this Thai slum, parents and children had reciprocal obligations. Moreover, while some parents felt that one-hour of sex with a foreigner would not harm their children, one six-year old explained, "I don't want to go with foreigners, but my grandmother asks me to so I feel I must" (pg. 192). Here, poor and exploited families used prostitution to keep their families in tact, to fulfill filial obligations and because no other economic alternatives existed, normalizing what in actuality was emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Montgomery stated that they were victims of industrialization and modernization and concluded that "It is much easier to blame inadequate parents or depraved Westerners than it is to provide long-term help in the form of poverty alleviation programmes or to examine critically the consequences of successive governments' development policies" (pg.195).
Parents 'pimping' their children is not unique to the poor of non Western nations. Even in the US, there are reports of a growing number of parents who, through the Internet, offer their children up for sex with strangers in exchange for money. Below is an article from ABC News about an American woman allegedly offering to sell her daughter's virginity for $10,000. I am not sure explanations for an incident that occurred in Salt Lake City, Utah, can be found in Buddhist beliefs in merit and reincarnation or Asian values of filial piety. Moreover, I have not as yet researched any academic journal articles proposing theories for this phenomenon. However, I wonder if 24/7 exposure to reality television, an emphasis on cultural values based on consumption, acquisition and instant gratification, or a hyper-sexualized/hyper-violent media and advertising climate in America has any effect? I welcome your thoughts and comments.
Agencies working to end child prostitution in the US and internationally:
End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT),
Kids With Cameras,
Children of the Night,
And for related information on human trafficking in the US and abroad, click here.
Utah Mother Tried to Sell Daughter's Virginity for $10,000, Say Cops
According to prosecutors, McClure asked her daughter if she was willing to lose her virginity to Don. The girl initially agreed to her mother's request, but later "told her mother 'no' and that she didn't feel comfortable having sex," said Gill. ABC News does not identify victims of sexual assault. Gill said prosecutors had not yet identified Don, the man accused of trying to buy the girl for sex, or Will, the man accused of buying pornographic images of the girl, because "they cannot comment on a pending investigation." "We're diligently following up on the men. For now we've chosen to go after the mother," he said.
Aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first degree felony for which McClure is charged on two counts, carries in Utah a maximum sentence of life. Had the girl been 14 instead of 13 her mother could not be charged with a first degree felony, Gill said. McClure is currently in the Salt Lake County Jail. Her bail was set at $250,000. She has does not yet have a lawyer.
Raiding a Brothel in India,
Nicholas Kristoff, May 25, 2011
At the beginning, I knew only about a young teenage girl imprisoned on the third floor of a brothel in a red-light district here in Kolkata. The pimps nicknamed her Chutki, or little girl. She had just been sold to the brothel-owner and seemed terrified. Investigators with International Justice Mission, a Washington-based aid group that fights human trafficking, had spotted Chutki while prowling undercover looking for prostituted children. I.J.M. hoped to convince the Kolkata police to free the girl, but it would help to have more evidence that the girl was still imprisoned. So an I.J.M. official asked: Would I like to accompany him as he sneaked into the brothel to gather evidence?
India probably has more modern slaves than any country in the world. It has millions of women and girls in its brothels, often held captive for their first few years until they grow resigned to their fate. China surely has more prostitutes, but they are typically working voluntarily. India’s brothels are also unusually violent, with ferocious beatings common and pimps sometimes even killing girls who are uncooperative. Unicef has estimated that worldwide 1.8 million children enter the sex trade each year. Too many are in the United States, which should prosecute pimps much more aggressively, but the worst abuses take place in countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Cambodia. So I set off with the I.J.M. investigator (who wants to remain anonymous for his own safety) into the alleys of the Sonagachi red-light district one evening, slipped into the brothel, and climbed to the third floor. And there were Chutki and three other girls in a room, a pimp hovering over them. Perceiving us as potential customers, he offered them to us. We demurred but said we’d be back.
The Kolkata police agreed to raid the brothel to free the girl. I.J.M. told them the location of the brothel at the last minute to avoid a tip-off from police ranks. The police casually asked us to lead the way in the raid since we knew what Chutki looked like and where she was kept. So along with a carload of police, we drove up to the brothel and rushed inside to avoid giving the pimps time to hide Chutki or to escape themselves. With the I.J.M. representative in the lead, we hurtled up the stairs, brushed past the pimp and found Chutki and the three other girls in the same room where we had seen them before. Two female social workers from I.J.M. immediately began comforting Chutki, who police said was about 15 and looked terrified. They explained that this was a police operation to rescue her, and they helped her put on a robe for modesty’s sake.
Then another of the girls in the room asked if she could be rescued — but a few days later. She explained that if she left now, the brothel-owners would blame her for the raid and possibly harm her grandmother, whose address they knew. We told the girl that this chance might not come again. She dissolved into tears, wavered and then decided to come out. Then a third said that she wanted to escape as well. The girls tipped off the police that the brothel-owner was in another building, arranging to sell a new girl named Raya for the very first time, either that evening or the next night. The police hurried off and returned with Raya, a wide-eyed girl of about 10 years. It seemed that the brothel had purchased Raya just a week earlier, after her own brother-in-law tricked her and trafficked her. If the raid had been delayed by a few hours, she might have faced the first of many rapes. With Raya was a 5-year-old girl who seemed to have been abandoned. Perhaps the brothel-owners were grooming her for sale in a few more years. So we emerged from the brothel with five lives that had just been transformed.
Equally important, one pimp had been arrested and arrest warrants had been issued for two more. There are no quick fixes to human trafficking, but experience in several countries suggests that prosecuting pimps and brothel-owners makes a difference. A study in Cebu, Philippines, found that helping police and courts target child prostitution resulted in 87 arrests over four years — and a 79 percent reduction in the number of children in the sex trade.
We drove the five girls to a police station to fill out paperwork so that they could move into shelters and receive schooling or vocational training. Raya, the 10-year-old who otherwise at that moment might have been enduring her first rape, was giggly and carefree as she pretended to drive the car. She behaved like a silly little girl — which was thrilling.