Forcing children into adult roles can lead to a destructive adulthood. This has been proven empirically and is beyond the realm of ethnocentrism. Physical and emotional abuse of children can destroy someone. Even worse is the type of abuse that is characterized by sexual activity and sexual interaction with children. Forcing a child to commit sexual acts before they are physically or mentally mature enough to handle it is the worst kind of crime. Yet, in nations all over the world, this kind of abuse not only occurs, but is a profitable business for perpetrators. Child prostitution is illegal all over the world, but in some countries the laws against child prostitution and the use of underage people for sexual interactions are lax and often go unenforced. The World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children has declared that child prostitution "constitutes a form of coercion and violence against children, and amounts to forced labor and a contemporary form of slavery" (Lim 170). In Asia in particular, several countries have been guilty of not enforcing laws preventing or punishing perpetration of child prostitution. Among these countries, Cambodia, Thailand, and Singapore are by far the worst offenders of rights of children to be children.
Researchers believe that of all nations that deal in child prostitution, Cambodia is by far the worst offender. Prostitution in any form is illegal in Cambodia, but the laws are ignored. It is estimated that there are more than 25,000 underage prostitutes currently working in Cambodia. This is a conservative estimate given that each day more young girls and boys are either kidnapped or sold into prostitution by their parents. It is a sad fact that of all the underage prostitutes in Cambodia at present, some 40% were sold to brothels by parents. Another 15% were sold by family friends or other relatives (Lim 180). Many of these children are from the poor regions of Cambodia and some are smuggled into the country from neighboring Vietnam which is equally poor. Most are sold, others believe that they are being engaged for employment in legitimate work like waitressing; still other young girls are kidnapped off of the streets.
Mothers and fathers with little money and many children will often sell them off to brothels in exchange for sometimes as little as $300 American. The child will then have to repay this debt by performing sexual acts on adult males. If a child is a virgin, her innocence will be sold off to a customer for around $1,000. For this she will receive nothing. The girls will also be held responsible for paying their pimp or madam for their clothes, food, housing, medical services, and abortions. After their virginities are taken, the girls are considered "spoiled" goods and a trick will earn $2 or $3 off of their debt. Girls who try to run away are caught, beaten and tortured, and then gang raped. Violence is used as a deterrent, as are drugs. Perpetrators often get their charges addicted to methamphetamines or heroin in order to keep them docile and dependent upon their employers for their fixes (Ray 90). Because of these reasons, very few girls ever try to escape the trade. By the time their debts are paid off the girls are usually too old and worn out by life to look for any other work and continue in prostitution until they die.
Besides the men from Cambodia who pay their fellow citizen's children for sexual conduct, Cambodia is the leading destination for sex tourists. Pedophiles that fear reprisal and punishment in the west will often go to Cambodia and fulfill their perverse desires. Even though there are laws prohibiting child prostitution, the crimes that occur are an open secret in Cambodia. In broad daylight, tourists are approached by pimps and madams willing to offer their young charges for a pittance (Piore). Pedophiles have flocked to Svay Pak, just outside the major city of Phnom Penh, which is considered the child prostitute capital of the country. For those who have travelled to the country for just this reason, finding a way into a children's brothel is simplicity in itself. Since the mid-2000s, Cambodian officials have been making an attempt to crack down on this portion of the child prostitution clientele following international pressure.
Much of the government and police forces in Cambodia have reportedly used the illegality of prostitution to get free sexual favors and payment from the various brothels (Colet 211). Infrequently men, usually foreigners who have come to the country for sex with children, are arrested, convicted, and sentenced to prison terms. However, these occurrences are very rare and usually only happen when the perpetrator has committed additional crimes or has been too indiscreet about his actions.
Perhaps even more atrocious than the crimes committed against young girls is the prostitution of young male children, which police will barely deign to agree even exists. One police officer was quoted as saying, "Why would any man want to sleep with young boys when we have a lot of young girl prostitutes available?" (Colet 211). For a long time, government officials did not even perceive homosexual conduct between grown males and young boys as possibly occurring. Recent cases of men being caught abusing children on the banks of rivers and in public locations forced officials to recognize their actions and to punish them accordingly.
In the past, Thailand was rife with child prostitution. It is estimated that more than $4 billion a year is earned through prostitution and the sex trade. This is an enormous sum considering that most Thai citizens earn about $300 per year ("100" 2009). Even worse than Cambodia, Thailand is reported to have between 60,000 and 200,000 children who are engaged in prostitution (Marquez). In small, rural communities, the primary economic trade is often prostitution and thus local governments do little to enforce laws or to curb perpetration of sexual abuse against children.
In the early 1990s Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai took office and made prevention and deterrence of child prostitution one of the platforms of his administration (Lim 172). Thailand's government has made a pledge to enforce laws regarding child prostitution. The government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This document reads:
States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. For these purposes, States Parties shall in particular take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent: a) the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity; b) the exploitative use of children in prostitution or any other unlawful sexual practices; c) the exploitive use of children in pornographic performances and materials (Lim 188).
In 1996, the Thai government passed the Prostitution Prevention and Suppression Act. This law made all prostitution officially illegal, but also differentiated criminality between prostitutes over 18, those between 15 and 18, and those under the age of 15. Anyone employed or engaged in the prostitution of a child under the age of 15 would face strict punishment (Lim 190). The severity of the punishment would increase with each year the child was under the age of 15. For sexual contact with a child under the age of 15, the perpetrator would face between four and twenty years in prison, as well as a substantial fine. Further legislation was passed which would protect male children as well as females from being victimized and abused by pedophiles and perpetrators of sexual abuse. To combat police malfeasance and misconduct, legislation in Thailand has been passed which severely punishes any officer of the government or member of legal authority who violates the rights of the children (192).
Unfortunately the best intentions of administration do not prevent poor parents and lascivious adults from using the Thai children for monetary gain. In this country, girls around age twelve are encouraged by parents to go with the men who arrive from large cities to recruit prostitutes. Many young girls go willingly with their employers as a way of repaying their parents and showing gratitude. Advisor to the Prime Minister, Saisuree Chutikal, was quoted as saying: "Obedience is something we treasure so much in our culture, so they do it. What the northerners treasure less is virginity" (Lim 181). When a girl is taught her whole life that the primary characteristic to value is obedience, being told to enter prostitution by an adult is not questioned. She follows with her parents orders even if that is in direct contrast to her own goals or ambitions. Parents in Thailand are thus now also being prosecuted for selling their children into prostitution or accepting money that was earned through the sex trade (Lim 192).
Despite government intervention and legislation passage, child prostitution still flourishes in Thailand and throughout Asia. One of the reasons for this is that the laws are very hard to enforce. Thailand has a limited police force and child…