A child’s exploits

Map: All the conflicts with reported sexual violence between 1989 and 2009


Organisation Save the Children says that 75-95% of rapes in England are never reported to the police. So imagine what it is like in less developed countries. According to the United Nations, about 50% of sexual violence worldwide is against girls under 16. Nearly 16% of the children, both male and female, will experience sexual abuse. That would mean nearly 30 million children worldwide will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.

2016-02-15 15-31-20 Ekran görüntüsü
By Laurens  Bammens*

According to Save the Children, 75-95% of the rapes in England are never reported to the police. Imagine how big the problem is worldwide. The United Nations published numbers which shows that about 50% of the sexual violence in the world is against girls under 16. Nearly 16% of the children, both boys and girls, will experience sexual abuse before they are 18. That means that 30 million children globally will be abused before they are adults.


Sexual abuse and certainly sexual abuse with children is still a real problem in the world. We discuss three axis which are prone to child abuse: tourism, armed conflicts and marriage.


Sex tourism: A penny for your child’s virginity

Wherever there is sex tourism and prostitution, you can be sure that children are also being employed in the industry. Tourists from all over the world travel to these places with the sole purpose of having cheap sex. Certainly Asia is a paedophile’s heaven. For decades organisations and governments have tried to put a stop to child prostitution, with some, but slow success. And where one industry dies, another one rises from its ashes.


25 years ago a small group came together to stop child prostitution in sex tourism. Today that groups still exists and is better known as Ending Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT ).


The group started after there had been a few scandals in South-Asian touristic places with child prostitution in the 80’s. During the Vietnam War that ended in 1975, commercial sex boomed wherever foreign soldiers went. Thailand was the closest country to Vietnam and many middle men organised themselves to supply the soldiers with women.


After the war, word got out and more and more tourists arrived in Thailand. Most of them with the purpose to engage in prostitution that was widely available for a cheap price.


Happy endings


Governments kept a blind eye to the illegal prostitution since it helped the economy immensely. The sex industry knew how to not be too obvious by founding massage parlours, brothels in disguise. It quickly became clear among teachers and social workers that also children were being sold for sex.


A case that brought light to the problem was a fire in a brothel in 1984 in Phuket, Thailand. In the basement, firemen found charred bodies chained to beds. They were girls between 9 and 12 years of age.


Media reports from that time reported that parents sold their children for TV sets or electronic devices, but there also were articles about child abductions from northern Thailand to the southern, more touristic provinces.


The headline also made it to foreign press when cases of tourists engaging in child prostitution became public. In 1987, an Austrian physician was responsible for the death of a 13 year old after she had been the victim of sexual abuse and torture.


The problems were discussed in Asia and also at UN summits where was said that sex tourism is closely related to child prostitution. National working groups were founded in Sri Lanka, The Philippines and Thailand to counter the problem.


One of the problems in countering child sex tourism was that the tourists could not be punished in their own countries. In 1993, Germany passed a law that allowed child sex tourists to be prosecuted in Germany. After that ECPAT pushed for more countries to do the same. By 1995, France, Australia, USA, Belgium and New Zealand had all passed such laws.


The world’s worst top 10


Thailand is still the number one destination for sex tourism. It is estimated that about 800 000 children are part of the commercial sex industry in Thailand. Also Brazil has a significant amount of underage sex workers.



As seen in the graph, Thailand is responsible for half of the child workers in the top 10 sex tourism destination according to therichest.com. There was no data on Spain and Cambodia. All of the data is an estimate or approximate. Most of the data is from the late 90’s or early 2000’s. Even central European Netherlands had about 15 000 underage prostitutes in 2001.


Prices in these countries vary. In Cambodia, one pays $60 for a child’s virginity while in Kenya a trip around the bedroom costs about $5.


These countries are not the only ones of course. Belgium based magazine Knack last year released a three part series on children in Morocco. The first part is called: ‘Paedophiles can get what they want in Morocco, for no money.’


Many child and human right organisations have complained about the situation in Morocco. There are many invisible children living in the streets. There is abuse in the orphanages and a growing child prostitution industry.


Poverty is probably the number one cause of (child) prostitution. Morocco has a lot of big families. At a certain point, there financial situation is not liveable anymore. Knack writes that it is not a surprise that some children go into prostitution, but there are also those who force their children into the industry. Because of the poverty, people start seeing sex as a trade object.


In Morocco, it is estimated that 366 000 children between 5 and 14 are in child labour. Often they have to work 20 hours a day and they are raped by their employer on top of that.


Child labour


The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that about 64.4 million children in Asia and the Pacific are working. In Sub-Saharan Africa it is about 57.6 million.



Children in employment by region (million), 5-14 year old, 2012

Children in employment by region (million), 5-14 years old, 2012 (Source: ILO)


The global trend in child labour seems to be decreasing, yet still about 26.2% of the children in Sub-Saharan Africa are child workers. Asia and the Pacific went from 14.8% to 10.1%. The ‘other regions’ category including the Middle-East and Europe increased from 4.3% to 5.1% possibly due to many wars and conflicts in the region.



Global trends in children's economic activity rate by region (percentage), 5-14 years old, 2008-2012

Global trends in children’s economic activity rate by region (percentage), 5-14 years old, 2008-2012 (Source: ILO)


If the father is not known, those babies are placed in orphanages. Once inside, it is hard to get them out since adoption in Morocco is very hard. Since a few years, Moroccan children can only be adopted by Muslims. That considerably decreases the pool of potential parents from Europe since most Europeans are Christian. Some orphanages do not even allow adoption.


The boys and girls in the orphanages are not properly educated, also not about sex. They get into puberty and do not know what to do with themselves. They get abused and they start abusing under themselves. They do not know any better. Personnel often does not know what to do or do not even want to know about the problems.


Many orphanages have an age limit until three years old. After that, the children get placed in big centres. There they are together with children up to 18 years old. Once children are out of the orphanages or out of the centres, they are completely on themselves. They fall into crime or prostitution.


In child prostitution, there is no discussion whether it is consensual or not. A child cannot decide for itself when it is ready for such intimacies, let alone with strangers.


Armed conflicts: War makes every house a free brothel


War and armed conflicts have been known for their violation of human rights. It is in the aftermath of the second World War that several declaration of human rights have been created. On December 10 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted by the United Nations. A year later, six founding countries founded the Council of Europe which deals with human rights and democracy.


The world has certainly become a better place since then. Although for those who live in an armed conflict, their human rights have seemed to melt as snow before the sun. During these conflicts, men women and children become weaker and often have no means of defending themselves against armed soldiers. Especially women and girls become very vulnerable to sexual violence, including rape, sexual torture and mutilation.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that rape during ware is not a matter of bad luck. It is a question of power and control by soldiers’ masculine privilege. Rape is employed by military forces to destabilise, humiliate and degrade a population. In the past there have been reports of sexual violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo, but also in Africa, sometimes even by soldiers commissioned by the United Nations.


Violence of sexual nature against anyone is very hard to be charted. These places are warzones with often no central authority where everyone is to do as he pleases. Organisations and ngo’s have increasingly started to collect data on sexual violence during conflicts, yet very precise data is not available. The World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Stop Rape Now released a meeting report in 2008 on data and data collection methodologies of sexual violence in conflicts.




Many have posed the question how big the problem is in the world’s most recent conflict, the Syrian War. The organisation Women Under Siege has tried to visualize how many people have been sexually abused during the Syrian War. They get their information from crowdsourcing through news articles, reports and videos. So far they have recorded 246 instances of at least one victim of sexual violence in Syria.

You can find the map here: https://womenund ersiegesyria.cro wdmap.com/.


The Huffington Post reported some of the findings Women Under Siege have uncovered. They write that 80 per cent of the reports include female victims, yet 20 per cent speak about males being the victim of sexual violence. The age of the female victims varies between 7 and 46 years old. In 40 per cent of the female cases, it was about gang rape. Half of the reports about men involve rape, while 25 per cent report sexual violence without penetration, such as shocks to the genitals.


Since there is no clear number on the amount of sexual assault, there is not any way of telling how many of the victims are children. Yet it is clear that there is no selection between men, women or children and that all are victims.


What is important to know is that both the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys are committing sexual violence in armed conflicts. There has never been a conflict in which sexual violence was polarised. Human Rights Watch talked to several women whom had been abused by government forces in Syria or non-state armed groups.


Maisa, 30, was providing medical assistance to civilians and working for a pro-opposition satellite television station before government security forces detained her in Damascus in April 2013. Members of the security forces beat her throughout the night with a thick green hose: “They slapped me on the face. They pulled me from my hair. They hit me on my feet, on my back, all over.” The women profiled were identified only by their first name or by a pseudonym, depending on their individual security situations.



609 conflicts with sexual abuse in 20 years


The Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and the Harvard Kennedy School have put together a dataset of all active conflicts between 1989 and 2009 as defined by 25 battle deaths or more. They included whether people had been sexually assaulted or not. 694 conflicts out of almost 8000 conflicts had reported incidents of sexual violence. So during most of the conflicts, nothing was reported and some conflicts turn up as unknown.



Kinds of Abuse in the armed conflicts


Rape was the number one kind of sexual violence with 609 cases. Most conflicts consisted of several ways of sexual violence. Over 15% of the conflicts included sexual torture and over 8% conducted in sexual slavery. On top of that, the ‘other’ category includes forced abortion and forced prostitution. 1.38% had reports on sexual violence, but it is unknown which kind.


Here is an overview of all the conflicts with reported sexual violence between 1989 and 2009:



Sudan seems to be the world’s champion with 83 conflicts with reported sexual abuse.


Child marriage: From the cradle to the altar

Joining each other in holy matrimony might sound like a way to Hollywood-like happiness, but it is not for many. In this day and age, the world still struggles with underage marriage whether forced or arranged. Even in Western countries there is a problem. Forced underage marriages in Turkey don’t seem to want to go away.


In the Western world, young people tend to get married much earlier than the generations before them. This trend mostly came to be because of economic reasons. The twenty-something s from today feel like they need a stable life with a good paying job before they can support a family. Higher education seems to be a must for those criteria.


In the 20th century, it was perfectly fine to just have secondary school education, if that. Most middle class workers were in the manufacturing sector and needed little formal education. The pay was decent and so was the pension. Times have changed.


Anti-nuclear family


Because of the generation that came before them, the youngest get the opportunity to be more ambitious. The same counts for women who no longer are housewives, but instead are business women, writers and architects on the same level as any man.


Yet when we look at the world in a broad perspective, there is data to proof that child marriages are still a thing. According to UNICEF, over 700 million women today were married before they were 18 years old. That is 10 per cent of the world’s population. 230 million before they were even 15.


The children can be as young as eight or nine years old when they marry a usually much older man. They are forced to have sex which strictly speaking is child rape, even when it is within a marriage. Sex with an underage girl while being much older is sexual abuse.


In Turkey, there is also a big problem with underage marriages. 28.2 per cent of all the marriages in Turkey are with brides below the age of 18. This is according to numbers by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) from 2008. 11.5 per cent marries when they are 18.


Age at first marriage in Turkey

The Turkish law is quite ambiguous when it comes to child marriage. There is no common definition of a person under the age of 18. Article 6 of the Turkish Penal Code defines a child as anyone under 18. In articles 103 and 104 on ‘child molestation’, a child is defined as someone below 15 years old.


UNICEF collected data globally of women between 20 and 24 whom were married before the age of 18. The map seems to focus on central and south-east Africa, but also south-east Asia and central America.



Not a honeymoon


Also in Western countries, forced and arranged, sometimes underage, marriages are a problem. Underage marriages are illegal in most countries, also the ones where it is most frequent. The law is not always enforced though. We can say that the law is enforced in Western countries. Yet the marriages we are talking about are often performed by people of other origins living in Western countries.


Young people are tricked into going on a holiday to their family that was left behind in the country of origin. Only when they arrive, they realise they are there to get married. They get isolated. They have no access to money, telephones or their passports. They will not be free to go where they please often in a country they know little about. In just a few weeks, they can be married, and it can be completely legal.


Forcing someone to marry a stranger is something found in many cultures. It used to be a way to link families to one another and achieve economic advantage, but the idea now seems to gain control over a person.


The BBC put together a list on why some choose to force their son or daughter into a marriage. One of the reasons is to control unwanted behaviour and sexuality. Certainly with people that are not from the same ethnicity or religious and cultural group.


The other reasons still seem to be linked to improve the family’s honour and increase wealth, property or land of the family. Sometimes it can be to assist in residence permits and citizenship. When someone is disabled they might get forced to marry someone to provide him or her with a free caretaker.


Children who are married are denied their rights to health and education. They are essentially robbed of their childhood, can be read on the website of Girls not Brides. When one is in their teenage years, a person is most fathomable to develop their skills. By forced marriage, sexual abuse and taking away one’s chance to be young, lives are ruined.





**Laurens Bammens, PXL Journalism student and he is Dağ Medya Intern during the 15 February – 3 June 2016



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