The best years of our lives are those that we live as children. Those are the innocent days when all that we have on our minds are dreams and ways to enjoy ourselves learning of the fascinating world we are living in. We run and play all day long, only stopping to eat and do homework and we never stop learning. We are immersed in our captivating universe. Unfortunately, this is just a superficial image of childhood as countless children are brutally exploited around the world, working streets and brothels to make their owners rich. These are the sex angels whose wings are broken every day and for whom the word tomorrow has no meaning as escape from their tormented world is practically inconceivable.
Thousands of miles away, on the other side of the world, in the bustling city of Mumbai, the largest city in India with a population of over 18 million people, Guddi, a young native girl laments, “I have a lot of dreams but they will never happen”. Guddi was fooled and kidnapped when she was only 11 years old. She comes from an extremely poor locality in the south of India and in her despair, left for Mumbai in search of a brighter future only to wind up in the red light district of Kamathipura. There, she was practically beaten and caged like an animal until she was broken and succumbed to her pimp’s will to have sex with men. She has tried to escape, only to be jailed by a corrupt police and blind judicial system who after several months in prison, released her to her pimp, after he payed for her freedom. Now at 26, she has to work until this money is payed back to be able to try to go back home.
Guddi is only one of the more than 100,000 sex workers in Mumbai. It is calculated that 15 million people in all of India, 1.2 million of them being children who are involved in prostitution, find themselves in a state of slavery. It is believed that over 200,000 girls from Nepal, many under the age of 14, were sold into slavery in India in the 90s.
While India has a major prostitution industry with millions of child sex workers, it unfortunately is not the only country that is tolerant to sex with children. The use of minors in prostitution and pornography is a global fact from which western countries are not excluded.For example, the European Union published a report covering 2010-2012 which claims that over 30,000 people were trafficked within or to the EU within this lapse of time, 69% of which was for sexual exploitation reasons. It should be mentioned that traffickers are rarely convicted and the support offered to victims is minimal.
The problem in Europe has been fueled in recent years by the economic crises that fell upon the continent. For example, prostitution in Greece has risen by 150% in its years of acute crises. Economic problems weaken families in the sense that parents work more hours, leaving their children more exposed to predators. The hardships that these families go through may push teenagers to prostitution as a way to provide income that can alleviate poverty and provide a mean to fulfill family or personal needs.
Sex tourism, though rampant in the developing world, has been surging from Western to Eastern Europe. Various agencies that can be found on the Internet, conduct child sex trips to nearby countries as well as further away to Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine. The Black Sea seems to be a growing sex tourism region attracting more and more visitors.
On a world-wide perspective, child sex tourism is linked to poverty, armed conflicts, rapid growth of industry and extensive growth of population. Vulnerable children as for example street children, are exploited by traffickers in countries like Thailand where 40% of prostitutes are believed to be children. The Nana Plaza in the red-light district of Bangkok, Thailand, a three story building that is composed of go-go bars, offering sexually oriented entertainment, is a major attraction for tourists who flock into the premises to enjoy the show and take a waitress to one of the many nearby hourly hotels for sex. In the surrounding streets, visitors can find Russian and African prostitutes walking the area along with their Thai counterparts. The area is under police surveillance although robbery and violence are not uncommon.
Cambodia, India, Brazil and Mexico as well contend to appear on the list of top sex trafficking nations. According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), sexual exploitation is one of the world’s fastest growing crimes. Travel agencies that specialize in special types of tourism are often fronts that cover child sex tourism, as is the case of Brazil which is rapidly out-pacing Thailand in this illicit industry. Fishing expeditions in the Amazon are many times arranged trips that link Western nationals with child prostitutes.
Mexico, apart from being one of the continent’s top sexual exploitation countries, is considered to be the world’s main provider of online child pornography. Due to the abundance of explicit child images on the Internet, the country’s major cities are visited by child abusers from all over the world in search of exploited native victims. With over 21,000 abductions of minors for sexual exploitation reasons only in 2017, tourist resort cities like Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco and Cancún have become a destination for pedophiles from the United States and Europe primarily but also visitors from other parts of the world. Tenancingo, Hidalgo, known as the sex trafficking capital of the world, is known for its “padrotes” or local men who control this trade with kidnapping of victims that are subsequently offered to prostitution rings. The stopping of cars and grabbing of girls right off the street is not uncommon.
In the United States, things don’t look better. There are an estimated 10,000 children that are sexually exploited in the country every year, with every victim forced to have sexual intercourse more than five times a day on an average.
People who have sex with children are ordinary men like doctors, priests, teachers and normal family men and although not thoroughly studied, women should not be excluded since they are also known to be perpetrators and are for sure the main suppliers of the “workforce” due to the trust they are more easily able to build with their victims of the same gender. If we do the math taking the lowest number of child victims recorded (8,900) and multiplying it by the average amount of times a sexually abused child has sex in a day (5.4) and afterward by the number of days in a week (7) and then the number of weeks in a year (52), we find that children are forced to have sex with adults almost 17.5 million times a year in the U.S. only! Worse yet, while some traffickers are caught and condemned to prison sentences (a very small percentage), the men who abuse the children, are completely immune, almost always escaping capture.
Use of the Internet in the last few years has soared, mostly because of more availability. Present day technology facilitates distribution of child porn as well as ways to escape detection, leading to a trend in production and distribution of child abuse images mostly in Western Europe but with the tendency seen throughout all of Europe. The TOR browser, a modified Mozilla Firefox which provides anonymity to the surfer through its own network, even though created to protect “personal freedom and privacy”, has provided secure ways for the exchange of files that is used in the proliferation of child pornography. The current method of distribution is live streaming through “pay-per-view” websites with features to protect the viewer and perpetrator from being tracked. Although this mean of propagation is growing every day within the European continent, according to UNICEF, the Philippines is the world’s largest source of child porn and a hotbed of live streaming of child abuse.
Of course there are institutions and organizations fighting this horrendous crime. THORN, an organization dedicated to the prevention of human trafficking that focuses on turning the technology that can harm children against the traffickers, reports the United States as one of the major producers and consumers of child abuse content. CyberTipline, the nations reporting system of suspected child sexual exploitation, received 10.2 million cases only in 2017 and the number is growing. On account of these numbers, Project Arachnid was born, whose purpose is to discover and take down child sexual abuse material by “crawling” the net. Though the project has had its success, the way cyber-criminals protect themselves changes every day making the need to search for new ways to detect them a daily challenge.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) is a non-profit organization working with Internet companies like Yahoo and Google as well as law enforcement agencies to detect child porn on the web. In 2010 the organization gathered 213,000 possible detections and this number has grown to an unbelievable 10 million in 2017!
The Truth Project, a part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), was initiated so that victims and survivors of sexual abuse could tell their stories in a confidential environment that could also provide support. The IICSA was established so that institutions that failed to do their job right in protecting children from sexual abuse could be investigated.
But the numbers are too big and sexual abuse has become a modern day Hydra. Although combated by the creation of tools and means to spot and stop the crime, with every administered blow, there are more and more children in sex slave situations. There is no mercy. Just young flesh that can have no voice and is just spread and pounced upon.
The involvement of children in the sex industry is growing every day and we are becoming more accustomed to the sex angels that surround us. We close our eyes and hearts and refuse to think of them while many of us succumb to the perversion and seek pleasure with children, never thinking of the damage we cause them. Others, refuse to partake yet do nothing to stop the constant raping of their bodies and minds, considering that their sons and daughters are safe and have nothing to do with sexual abuse. And then one day, some of us will be visited by a law enforcement agent who will inform us of how our child has been sexually abused for years, showing us photos of our offspring in humiliating sexual positions with our next door neighbor. Then we understand but it’s far too late and the price payed for our indifference is the harm caused to our child’s mental health which will be carried to his or her grave.
*Cover Image by Imagens Evangélicas via Flickr