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Child Sexual Exploitation

In 2013 South Africa had 45 000 children prostituted. With South Africa as a growing economy and competing with first world countries, there still remains a disparity of racial inequality and poverty. Researchers believe 60% of children live under these and other conditions, which leaves children at a high risk to be targeted for sexual exploitation and trafficking. While South Africa is not renowned for being a ‘hot spot’ for child trafficking, the realities of our country create the ideal backdrop for child sexual exploitation in that

  • South Africa is a favourite tourist destination for many individuals

  • There is a relative ease of access for those who want to cross the borders

  • High levels of poverty

  • There is a lack of specified anti-human trafficking laws

Sexual exploitation is not unique to young people and adults only, but encompasses a type of sexual abuse where children are exploited for money, power or status.

Child sexual exploitation is a hidden crime. Poverty, lack of education and in some cases coercion places the children of South Africa at high risk. It is often facilitated by the lack of economic power and job opportunities. In the hopes for a better life for the family, parents may facilitate and coerce their children to be in the “relationships”. A recent study found that 30% of girls reported that their first sexual encounter was forced. Research estimates that a quarter of all boys and girls living and working on the streets in Cape Town are sexually exploited though prostitution.

It involves children under the age of 18 years who get into “conventional” relationships where they receive something (food, accommodation, drugs, affection and other gifts) without their immediate knowledge for sexual purposes.

With the growing interest and a large portion of our lives lived online, sexual exploitation happens online where young people may be forced to:

  • Send or post explicit images of themselves

  • Take part in sexual activities using a webcam or their smartphones

  • Be involved in sexual conversation, via text or online

Abusers may also threaten to send the images they have acquired to family and friends unless they continue/take part in other sexual activities.

Sexual exploitation involves:

  • Violent, humiliating, degrading sexual acts

  • Taking advantage of another sexually without their consent

  • Taking advantage of another’s sexuality

  • Threatening to disclose an individual’s Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, or Gender Expression

  • Observing another person’s nudity or sexual contact without their knowledge

  • Sharing, streaming, posting and/or exchanging sexual images of individuals without their consent

  • And taking advantage sexually of another person

The severity of the situation is clear to all, as Lieutenant-General Lesetja J Mothiba said “This is an issue that affects all of us, across the board and across all racial lines. The problem of sexual exploitation of children through the usage of technology devices and communication platforms is growing. The use of these devices has proven to be both useful and dangerous, and at the same time, very difficult to deal with.”

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