Trading the flesh of young children

By WND Staff

This past summer could well be remembered as the one when even little girls weren’t safe in their beds. From California to Pennsylvania, the news focused on grown men preying on young girls, swiping them right from under their parents’ noses.

But half a world away, it rarely makes headlines when grown men prey on little girls – and boys. In fact, in many countries worldwide, the sexual trafficking of children has become a booming tourist industry.

Up to 7,000 girls, many as young as 9 years old, are sold every year in India’s red-light districts. Ten thousand children between the ages of 6 and 14 are “employed” in Sri Lankan brothels.

UNICEF reports that approximately 1 million children are taken into forced prostitution each year around the world: 200,000 child prostitutes in Thailand; 400,000 in India; between 244,000 and 325,000 in the U.S.; 100,000 in the Philippines, Taiwan and Brazil; and 35,000 in West Africa.

Hunger, poverty and a lucrative demand by fetishists for young flesh fuel the industry. One investigator who tracks global sex trends attributes the demand to individuals “eager to push the envelope of carnal exploration,” as well as pedophiles. In addition, the fear of HIV and AIDS being communicated by older, more experienced prostitutes contributes to the recruitment of younger women and girls, some as young as 7, into the business on the erroneous assumption that they are too young to have been infected.

In impoverished countries, young girls are often sold to a pimp or brothel by their own families for $150 to $200. And in the Philippines, India, Cambodia and other impoverished countries, many families sell their daughters for $350 – enough to support the family for one year.

The experiences of these young children at the hands of pimps, slave-traders and, tragically, their own families are unforgettable and heartbreaking. Take, for example, Pia Agustin Corvera from the Philippines. When she was 9, her aunt started selling “encounters” with her for $3 per visit. Three years later, she was sold to a German pedophile.

Another example is two sisters, ages 6 and 12, from Bangkok. Their parents sold them to a pimp, who “rented” them out to a visiting Australian to abuse and photograph for months on end. Or the six girls, ages 11 to 13, who were rescued from a Cambodian brothel that offered only young children.

Then there was the Oklahoma City mother who was accused of prostituting her two daughters, ages 4 and 7, on the streets of Las Vegas. Connie Behymer allegedly ordered the little girls to engage in sexual acts with between 20 and 50 men. To those interested in the goods she offered, Behymer’s deal, according to media reports, was “$50, no refunds, no money back.” After spending a year in jail awaiting trial, Behymer pled guilty to two gross misdemeanor counts of child neglect. She was sentenced to the time she had already served and set free.

Behymer’s experience underscores the sad truth that the judicial system offers little justice for those sold for profit in the flesh trade. When compared to the penalties imposed for crimes such as drug and gun trafficking, the penalties for trafficking humans – especially young children – for sexual exploitation are often relatively minor and are frequently seen as merely a nuisance or temporary obstruction.

In many instances, the young victims are also treated like criminals – while their abusers walk free. That was the case for two sisters, 10- and 11-year-old runaways from Atlanta. Forced into prostitution by a relative, they were arrested by police and placed in jail. According to an article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “in Georgia, pimps are rarely arrested, even when the prostitute is a child. When pimps are charged, their cases often are dismissed or result in a small fine.” However, “statistics for adults show a clear disparity in the system’s treatment of pimps and prostitutes. Since 1972, 401 adults – nearly all women – went to prison in Georgia for prostitution. No one went to prison for just pimping.”

The effectiveness of legislative attempts to resolve the problem of trafficking women and children remains questionable. For example, in passing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, Congress attempted to create a protocol for combating sexual slavery. Despite Congress’ attempts to hold countries accountable through a variety of incentive programs and financial penalties, however, the Office to Combat Trafficking, which was created in the U.S. State Department, has become, in the words of the International Justice Mission, the Office to Obscure Trafficking.

Even the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child has proved weak and ineffective. Promising children around the world the right to life, liberty, education and health care, the Convention provided protection to children in armed conflict, protection from discrimination, protection from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, protection within the justice system and protection from economic exploitation, in addition to many other fundamental protections. But despite the well-meaning intentions of those who signed and ratified the treaty, more than 10 years later, it remains a piece of paper without any real power.

So what can the average person do?

If we are to fight the scourge of sexual slavery, we must start at home, with severe penalties for those who trade in human cargo, both buying and selling, without prosecuting the victims. Our president and Congress must stop passing lame-duck legislation and put their principles into practice, actively prosecuting those who exploit children, both in the U.S. and abroad. And if we are to truly end sexual slavery, we must remember the economic principle of supply and demand – and ensure that we are targeting the true criminals: those who seek to purchase pleasure with a child’s life.

For children to be so used, abused and deprived of their childhood innocence is nothing less than a crime against humanity. As citizens, we have a moral duty to do something to right the wrongs being done to these children. Thus, the fate of each child trafficked weighs on us all equally.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute.