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Child Prostitution

The term prostitution is used to describe commercial sexual activities. Many adults in the sex industry use the term 'sex work' and label themselves 'sex workers'. Children or young people often do not identify themselves as either sex workers or prostitutes, nor do they view their actions in the context of those terms.

As a result, new labels for the commercial sexual activity of young people have been developed, especially in first world countries such as New Zealand and Australia. These terms include 'sex for survival', 'opportunistic prostitution' and 'sex for favours'. Such terms acknowledge that when a young person exchanges sex the transaction may not always involve money, but may involve an exchange for basic needs such as accommodation, food, clothing, drugs or safety.

New Zealand Legislation

Prostitution itself is not illegal in New Zealand, but a range of provisions exist which deal with aspects of prostitution, including soliciting. Legislation relating to child prostitution and soliciting in general has been, and is currently, the focus of reform in New Zealand. Gaps in New Zealand legislation relating to child prostitution were addressed by the Crimes Amendment Act 2001. Section 149A of the Crimes Act 1961 prohibits any person being a client in an act of prostitution by a person under 18 years of age. The Amendment Act also corrected a gender bias in the legislation. Previous legislation only prohibited the procuring of females for sexual intercourse with males. Section 149 of the Crimes Act now prohibits the procuring of a person for the purposes of prostitution with another person.

A private member's Prostitution Reform Bill to decriminalise prostitution and the offences around prostitution, including soliciting, is currently before a parliamentary Select Committee. This Bill also aims to protect children by making it an offence to be a party to a contract using a child under 18 years as a prostitute.

Child Prostitution in New Zealand

As with every other area of commercial sexual exploitation of children, estimating the true nature and extent of child prostitution in New Zealand is very difficult due to the clandestine nature of the activity. However, research and anecdotal evidence suggest that child prostitution is a growing problem in New Zealand. ECPAT NZ has recently completed the first stage of a three-stage research project on the extent of CSEC in New Zealand. Initial findings revealed that child prostitution is reported throughout New Zealand, in rural districts and towns as well as cities.

The underlying reasons for young people becoming involved in sex work are complicated and multi-layered. Increased awareness and research overseas has indicated that the majority of children do not enter into prostitution willingly and that their participation is indicative of compulsion or desperation rather than choice.

Children drawn into prostitution do not come from one particular background. Some may still be living with parents or caregivers, others may be living away from home in residential care, while others may have run away and be homeless. There is not a single pattern; children may enter prostitution through a number of pathways including homelessness, family breakdown, pressure from friends already involved in prostitution, sexual abuse, poverty, drug/ alcohol misuse, educational underachievement or unemployment. Frequent school absences or absence for an extended period, either through truancy or suspension, may also make children especially vulnerable. The government has recognised the need to keep young people in the education system by increased funding to expand alternative education places for those who are too disruptive or alienated to remain in regular classes.

Programmes and Policies

Young sex workers are a difficult group to engage with and provide support, information and education. One programme in New Zealand that has been particularly successful at engaging with young people involved in prostitution is the Child and Young Person's Prostitution Programme, which developed from a collaboration between the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective Charitable Trust and the Youth Health Trust. The pilot programme has operated from the Christchurch branch of New Zealand Prostitutes Collective and from the 198 Youth Health Centre. The Department of Internal Affairs through the Community Project Workers Scheme has funded the pilot for the past four years to May 2001.

The Child and Young Person's Prostitution Programme provides timely and appropriate responses to the mental, physical, social and spiritual needs of targeted children and young people. Responses are made in a manner that is appropriate to the age and developmental stage of the children and young person involved. Programme staff work in partnership with the youth to break down their mistrust of healthcare and social service agencies which has resulted from either a real experience or a perception of past institutional abuses or inadequacies. The Child and Young Person's Prostitution Programme also aims to keep young people aged between 16 and 18 years safe when they engage in sex work, and takes a pragmatic approach, as this is critical to immediately reducing harm faced by these young people.

While the number of Maori children involved in prostitution is unknown, it is likely that Maori are over-represented among child prostitutes because the risk factors that give rise to children becoming involved in prostitution are more common among Maori families. Maori youth are more likely to have family problems, to abuse drugs and alcohol, live in poor neighbourhoods, and lack positive cultural identity. This latter point is exacerbated for many young Maori by the cultural alienation that has been produced by a perception of historical injustice; the urban drift of Maori; and the subsequent breakdown of traditional support structures.

Consequently, appropriately targeted and well-designed programmes that offer support, education and advocacy to Maori young people involved in prostitution are needed.

Programmes delivered by Maori on the basis of Maori values are those likely to be most effective. The programmes provided by Te Aronga Hou Trust provide an example. Te Aronga Hou provides three services to takataapui (gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people) and youth soliciting on the streets of Counties-Manukau. The outreach service, Toro Atu, is a mobile service offering information, advice and support. The support and advocacy service, Awhinatia, evaluates the needs of takataapui and youth and links them with appropriate support services. The knowledge and training service, Matauranga, provides wellbeing education and awareness programmes, personal development and vocational rehabilitation. Te Aronga Hou recently received funding from Te Puni Kokiri which will provided over the next three years.

Future Directions

Representatives from many agencies including Police, Child, Youth and Family, ECPAT NZ, Maori Wardens, NZ Prostitutes' Collective, Manukau Youth Centre, Youthline and Te Aronga Hou Trust recently met to discuss the issue of child prostitution in the greater Auckland region, share information and develop a plan to address the problem. As a result, child prostitution has been identified in the latest South Auckland Community Response Plan, which informs Child, Youth and Family community funding decisions. Child, Youth and Family has also agreed to investigate with Police options for joint development of pamphlets to explain the changes to the law prohibiting the use of a prostitute under 18 years of age. The pamphlets would assist in educating the public and young people about the unacceptability of underage prostitution.

Child, Youth and Family will also be reviewing funding and support to community agencies in both Auckland and Christchurch to deal with underage prostitution. Further service development will be informed by research and well-regarded programmes such as the Child and Young Person's Prostitution Programme. The success of the Child and Young Person's Prostitution Programme demonstrates that peer education is a highly effective way of engaging with young people involved in prostitution.

In order to continue providing peer education services, organisations, such as the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, must have their resourcing needs met where practicable to enable them to train front-line staff with the skills needed to work effectively with young people. Individuals and agencies working with these young people should ideally have an understanding of sex work, as well as an appreciation of the developmental processes affecting these young people. They must also have a working knowledge of legislation and working practices that affect children and young people engaged in prostitution. Representatives of statutory authorities, such as the Police, Justice, and Child, Youth and Family, must be able to interface with non-governmental groups who have experience and expertise in this area.

Transgendered youth may be especially vulnerable to entering into prostitution because of homophobic reactions to their gender and sexuality from family or peers that may leave them alone and unsupported. The levels of discrimination experienced by young transgender people when trying to find accommodation, obtain an education, get a job, access health services generally results in them being among the most vulnerable and marginalised young people in society.

Until there is intensive education work promoting attitudinal change this situation will no doubt continue. The Human Rights Commission has been directed by government to produce a National Plan of Action, which will be a strategic blueprint for the development of New Zealand human rights. As part of this work the Human Rights Commission will continue educating the New Zealand public about human rights issues and discrimination, including discrimination based on gender and sexuality.

As with Maori children, Pacific children also fall into a group amongst which the identified risk factors that give rise to children becoming involved in prostitution are high. This is particularly the case in terms of living in poor neighbourhoods, lacking positive cultural identity, educational underachievement or unemployment and frequent absences from school. Given that an overwhelming proportion of the Pacific population is of a youthful age the potential effects of such situational and social conditions cannot be underestimated in relation to the issue of child prostitution. Appropriately targeted programmes based on Pacific values are needed for Pacific young people involved in prostitution to ensure that the support services they receive are responsive to their particular needs.