Child prostitution, parental consent, and the erasure of victimhood

I came across this quote while following a link in an article on the Anti-Porn Feminists blog:

In the United States the system of care for trafficked children has been developed within a framework based on middle-class Western ideals about childhood as a time of dependency and innocence during which children are socialized by adults and become competent social actors. Economic and social responsibilities are generally mediated by adults so that the children can grow up free from pressures of responsibilities such as work and child care. Children who are not raised in this way are considered “victims” who have had their childhood stolen from them. . . . many of the children did not consider themselves trafficked victims, but thought of their experiences as migration in search of better opportunities that turned into exploitation. Many also did not think of their traffickers as perpetrators of crime and villains; after all in some instances the traffickers were parents or close relatives. — Elzbieta M. Gozdziak, On challenges, dilemmas, and opportunities in studying trafficked children

It immediately reminded me of this quote:

….phrases such as “prostituted children” or “children exploited by the sex industry”…deny some of the reality of the children’s lives and ignore the strategies that are employed….The search for victims of child abuse sometimes obscures the acknowledgement of the children’s agency…it was their money that supported their parents and kept families together.  Even though they were socially and economically very marginal, by most definitions they were dutiful children whose respect and difference [sic] towards their parents was honorable and admirable…Personally I felt that the children were exploited but that this exploitation came not through prostitution but through their general poverty and social exclusion. — Heather Montgomery, Children, Prostitution, and Identity: A Case Study from a Tourist Resort in Thailand


The idea of universal human rights engages in the truth that there are violations against persons which are de facto violations.

It is a de facto violation of the universal rights of a child to be prostituted because young children’s bodies cannot endure adult penetrative sex without physical harm.  All prostituted women and children experience physical trauma such as “broken bones, concussions, STDs, chronic pelvic pain” inflicted upon them through rape and battering within the violent institution of prostitution (see Raymond).

It is a de facto violation of the universal rights of a child to be prostituted because that child is put at high risk for HIV/AIDS.  In Northern Thailand, for example, 50% of prostituted women and girls have HIV/AIDS (CATW).  These women and girls will die.

If parental consent and cultural practices erase the idea of universal human rights, then we would have to accept as unproblematic a parental choice or cultural practice that involves throwing children into oncoming traffic in which 50% of the children sustain injuries that will eventually result in premature death.

The exchange of capital for goods or services is not an ethical practice.  It is simply the exchange of capital for goods or services.  It is neither ethical nor unethical in itself.  Therefore, the fact that money is earned by a child through trafficking or prostitution does not make trafficking or prostitution ethical.  It is irrelevant.

Trafficked children are unable to attend school.  The denial of education to a child is a de facto violation of the universal rights of a child.  According to the UN, education is “the smartest investment for breaking the poverty cycle and achieving social justice” for women and girls.

These are not the classist, racist ideas of white, middle-class Americans.  These are ideas embraced by women in the struggle for justice all over the world.


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