April 27, 2000 03:50am
Kids Turning to Sex Trade to Earn a Little Extra Cash
(TOKYO) - Children in prosperous countries are turning to the sex trade to earn a little extra cash, rather than out of the dire poverty that traditionally drives the business, activists said Thursday.
``It's no longer just the children who need to live who go into it,'' said Ofelia Calcetas-Santos, the U.N. rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography. ``This is a departure from what we traditionally know.''
More research is needed to pin down numbers, and to see how recent a development this is, Calcetas-Santos said in an interview at a meeting to plan the second World Congress Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.
The first congress was held in Stockholm in 1996, and organizers hope to hold the next one in Japan in 2001.
Japan is known internationally as one of the largest producers and consumers of pornography, and shoals of Japanese travelers fuel the child sex trade in developing countries by going on so-called ``sex tours.''
Criticized for laxity on child pornography, Japan finally adopted a law late last year banning the sale, distribution, production, possession and trading of child pornography. It also makes sex illegal with anyone 17 years old or younger.
Amid a thriving sex industry, the phenomenon of Japanese schoolgirls turning to prostitution to buy designer bags and similar luxuries has drawn a lot of attention.
``Japanese children normally don't need money to survive,'' Calcetas-Santos said. ``Why are there children in prostitution in Japan, the United States, Canada, Western Europe?''
The executive director of UNICEF Japan, Yoshihisa Togo, had an answer.
``There are very simple and stupid reasons. Most of them want money to buy things,'' Togo said in an interview. ``They don't think of the value of their dignity.''
The children keep their other life a secret from their families by changing clothes outside the home, for example, he said.
Unlike in many other places, girls here who sell their bodies to adult men dabble in prostitution, they don't make a business of it, he said.
Togo had no estimate of the number of Japanese children involved in the sex trade, though it is probably quite small.
He blamed the phenomenon on a post-war educational system that doesn't stress morals or discipline, and on parents who don't offer their children enough guidance.
In Japan, children turn to the sex trade at least in part as a reaction to what is still a rigid, male-dominated society, said Josephine de Linde, chairwoman of ECPAT International. ECPAT is an organization fighting the sexual exploitation of children.
Raising the status and self-esteem of women and children is crucial to ending their exploitation in Japan and in the rest of the world, she said.