Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking

UNICEF cites estimates that as many as 1.2 million children are being trafficked every year. There is a high demand for boys and girls as cheap labor and forced sexual exploitation.

"Misrael," age 16, lives in a shelter for homeless children living with HIV. He became infected by a an older woman who supplied him with crack in exchange for sex.

As with child pornography and prostitution, child trafficking is lucrative and linked with criminal activity and corruption. It is often hidden and hard to address.  Children and their families are often unaware of the dangers of trafficking.  Many believe the promises of work and a better life in another country.

Organized local prostitution exists in most countries of the world. It is exacerbated by economic and social upheaval, extreme poverty, deprivation and excessive consumerism. According to UNICEF nearly 2 million children are exploited by the pornography and prostitution industries. Communities are often reluctant to question or intervene in an area generally accepted as a private realm.

Cindy Paula, age 17, is a single mother who works in the red light district along the railroad line. Some of the girls here are trafficked from El Salvador. Traffickers come here looking for women to take to Mexico and the US.

This makes millions of boys and girls especially vulnerable. HIV/AIDS has increased demand for ever younger child prostitutes, in the mistaken belief that they present a much lower risk of infection. Children in situations of armed conflicts, and displaced, migrant and refugee children are particularly vulnerable to all forms of sexual exploitation.

Some facts about trafficking of children and sexual exploitation in Latin America:

  • UNICEF estimates that 1,000 to 1,500 Guatemalan babies and children are trafficked each year for adoption by couples in North America and Europe.
  • Mexico’s social service agency reports that there are more than 16,000 children engaged in prostitution. Tourist destinations have the highest number.

"Monica," age 16, stands before the door to her room in the brothel saloon where she lives and works.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child says signatories must protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. The Third World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, which took place from 25 to 28 November 2008 in Rio de Janiero Brazil,  reinforced a global commitment to end child sexual exploitation.

Be Informed: UNICEF’s page on child exploitation