LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Children sold for sex should never be called prostitutes but victims of sexual abuse, according to campaigners seeking to strike the term “child prostitution” from official records.
Campaigners in Britain and the United States are leading the fight against the term child prostitute which they argue implies that sexually exploited children are complicit in their abuse.
British parliamentarian Ann Coffey has called for a debate on the issue in the UK parliament this month while U.S. campaign No Such Thing, launched earlier this month, calls upon policymakers, law enforcement and others to stop using the term.
Jon Bird, who was sexually abused at the age of four and now is operations manager at the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, says “child prostitute” implies consent, stigmatizes victims, and downplays the crime.
“I think it will be even more important for those who went through it as teenagers, for the language to reflect severity of the crime,” he said.
The anti-child exploitation, pornography and trafficking organization ECPAT estimates that 1.8 million children are exploited in prostitution and pornography worldwide.
Humanium, an international NGO promoting child rights, estimates more than three million minors feed prostitution networks, some abandoned by their families or sold into the sex trade, and this increasingly lucrative business is growing.
Coffey, an opposition Labour lawmaker, wants Britain to lead the world by outlawing the term child prostitution and is campaigning to banish references from British law where it appears in 16 different pieces of legislation.
Her campaign follows a series of high-profile grooming cases in Britain in which groups of men lured vulnerable teenage girls into sex work.
“All too often, victims have been viewed as being complicit in their own abuse, as making lifestyle choices,” Coffey told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We really have to understand they are children, they are vulnerable, that they need the full protection of the law but, more than that, they need the full protection of a community ... This is important because language shapes attitudes.”
The U.S. campaign is being led by Rights4Girls with support from Google and the McCain Institute with figures showing at least 100,000 children are victims of sex trafficking in the United States each year.
British children’s charities have expressed unanimous support for the proposal.
“It’s child abuse, and that’s the term that should be used,” said Fleur Strong, project manager at PACE, Parents against Child Sexual Exploitation.
Chloe Setter, head of advocacy at ECPAT, said some campaigners were concerned that making changes at national level could prove difficult as “child prostitution” is still widely used in international laws and agreements.
A spokesman for the Council of Europe, which used the term in its recent publications, said this reflected the language of the United Nations. The UN did not return a request for comment.
“We’ve got to start to lead the way in this,” Coffey said. “If you change terminology in domestic legislation, that inevitably leads to changes in international treaties.”
Reporting by Liisa Tuhkanen; Editing by Ros Russell