Lost Innocence: The Menace of Child Prostitution in India

The article explores the evil of child prostitution in India. As per law, child prostitution is prohibited. However, the fact that close to 1.2 million children are involved in this practice, paints an extremely unsuccessful picture of the law enforcement agencies. The article also takes a look at the scenario in India, the proper legal provisions, the international response and the effects of child prostitution.

Trafficking and Prostitution

Trafficking is a term that is used to define the illegal trade across borders of banned substances like drugs for profit. However, trafficking today is no longer confined to this alone and also include "human trafficking" to mean the illegal transport of human beings, in particular women and children, for the purpose of selling them or exploiting their labor.

In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly defined "human trafficking" as:
the "illicit and clandestine movement of persons across national and international borders, largely from developing countries and some countries with economies in transition with the end goal of forcing women and girl children into sexually or economically oppressive and exploitative situations for the profit of recruiters, traffickers, crime syndicates, as well as other illegal activities related to trafficking, such as forced domestic labor, false marriages, clandestine employment and false adoption."

According to UNICEF a child victim of trafficking is "any person under 18 who is recruited, transported, transferred, harbored or received for the purpose of exploitation, either within or outside a country".

A consequence of such trafficking of children is prostitution.

The United Nations has defined Child Prostitution as "the act of engaging or offering the services of a child to perform sexual acts for money or other consideration with that person or any other person."

By 1990s, great awareness was generated regarding the sexual exploitation of children and their sale. It was then that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child's Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography defines the practice as "the act of obtaining, procuring or offering the services of a child or inducing a child to perform sexual acts for any form of compensation or reward."

Child Prostitution often overlaps with child pornography.

Worldwide, reportedly 10 million children are involved in child prostitution.

India is a source, transit and destination country for trafficking for many purposes such as commercial sexual exploitation. Child prostitution is an alarming problem in India and is a fast-growing industry. Child Prostitution comes under child labor.

In India, Mumbai is the hot-bed of child prostitution with approximately 1.2 million children involved in it. According to the UNICEF State of the World's Children Report, India, Brazil, Mexico, Cambodia and Thailand have been identified as the leading hotspots of child sex trafficking in the world.

Modus Operandi

Child prostitution is mainly carried out through sex-trafficking. Such children are sometimes drugged and then kidnapped by locals or middlemen who then sell them to pimps who run brothels.

It is also carried out by luring children who are impoverished, of good education, good skill and jobs.
Sometimes, severe poverty force parents to sell off their daughter to middlemen who then sell them off to pimps and they are then made to work as sex-workers in brothels, bars, clubs etc.


Poverty is a strong contributing factor apart from recognized crime rackets and unemployment. Busting the crime rackets alone is not the solution, if measures for poverty eradication are not taken. Poverty breeds ignorance and in order to ameliorate their economic conditions, poor families knowingly/unknowingly send their young girls to men who promise them opportunities.

In order to support their families, young girls, sometimes, voluntary join this field. Even social customs is a reason.

Most rural families in India resort to quick marriages without properly ascertaining the familial background of the grooms.

Scenario in India

In India nearly 1.2 million sex workers are below the age of 18 with about 40 underage girls being forced into prostitution on a daily basis. With the 8 % of increase in the flesh trade, India has become one of the prominent names in child prostitution.

Between 2013 and 2014, at least 67,000 children in India went missing, of whom 45% were minors trafficked into prostitution. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a girl is abducted every eight minutes in India. A US report on human trafficking states that India is one of the world's main hubs for child sex trafficking.

Majority of the trafficking is within the country but there are also a large number trafficked from Nepal and Bangladesh.

As per estimates by Maiti Nepal, Child Workers in Nepal and National Commission for Women in India, between 5,000 and 7,000 Nepali girls are trafficked every year across the border to India. Most of them end up as sex workers in brothels in Bombay and New Delhi. Currently, 200,000 Nepalese girls under 16 years are in prostitution in India.

An estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Indian children are smuggled out of the country every year to Saudi Arabia for begging during the Hajj.

In inter-state trafficking, Assam is one of the worst sufferers with 529 girls trafficked the state in the year 2008 and has been on the rise.

The largest red-light districts in India are Sonagachi (West Bengal), M.G Road (New Delhi) and Kamathipura (Mumbai), established over 150 years ago during colonial rule as one of Mumbai's "comfort zones" for British soldiers. It is Mumbai's oldest and largest red light district is a maze of around 14 dingy, cramped lanes overlooked by gleaming, new skyscrapers.

Legally, a commercial sex worker above the age of 18, voluntarily and privately (200 yards away from a public place) can earn money through prostitution but child prostitution is prohibited.
The scenario of child prostitution in India, as reflected by the above-mentioned statistics is grim and extremely shocking.

Their living conditions are worse. Accounts of survivors reveal gory details about the treatment they were subjected to. They lives as modern-day slaves and are not supposed to speak. They are expected to be obedient and do as told otherwise they are subjected to physical pain.

Large numbers of girls are crammed in a single room with dim lights and in stingy conditions.

The Devdasis of South India

In South India, they follow the practice of dedicating thousands of very young girls every year to the Goddess Yellamma. They are called devadasis or "Servants of God" and are not allowed to marry a mortal.
At puberty, they are later sold off in an auction called "touching ceremony". The girl's family is paid by the first man who touches her.

The concept is that these girls specifically designated by a woman from their village in a trance state are supposed to amuse men and receive blessings from this Goddess. This is a form of using religion to justify prostitution.

It is shocking to know that out of these children, 88% of them are below the age of ten. They hail from poor, superstitious families and have a low-caste background.

In Bombay, 15% of the prostitutes are devadasis; in Delhi, Nagpur and Hyderbad, 1O%; in Pune, 50% and in southern parts of India, 70 to 80%.

According to the 1934 Devadasi Security Act, this practice is banned in India.

According to the child rights activists, the laxity of concerned authorities has allowed the child prostitution syndicates to thrive. They also say that the official records represent only some portion of the ground reality and actual figures of such cases are staggering.

They point out the indifference of police officers towards registering first information reports (FIRs) of missing children as these might affect their performance evaluation.

Effects on Children

Children procured for prostitution are often sexually abused. They are subjected to rape and confined in tiny locked cells in secret rooms of brothels without proper food and water. They eventually become victims of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like HIV.

Other physical effects include: vaginal tearing due to repeated sexual intercourse, infection, and unwanted pregnancy, diseases like syphilis, herpes, tuberculosis and reproductive issues.

Psychologically, they undergo severe depression, insomnia, sexual and personality confusion, trust issues with adults, fear, loss of confidence, etc to name a few.

Rights under International Law

International Law prohibits child prostitution.

The UNICEF is guided by the CRC which has been ratified by all countries except US and Somalia.
Articles 9 and 10 of the CRC states that a child must not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except where it is in the best interests of the child.

Article 11 commits States to combat the illicit transfer of children abroad.

Article 35 asks States to adopt appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction, sale or trafficking of children for any purpose or in any form.

Articles 32, 34, 36 and 39 of the CRC are also relevant. Article 32 recognizes the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation. To implement these measures, States are mandated to take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of the same. Article 34 is more relevant in this context as it mandates the State to undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.

Under Article 35, the respective State Government should take all measures possible to make sure that children are not abducted, sold or trafficked.

Under Article 39 State Parties are to take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of exploitation.

Rights of children under the national law

The primary law dealing with prostitution was The Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act, 1956, abbreviated as SITA. However, under this law only girls and women were recognized as victims with 21 years set as the age for a woman.

This Act was amended in 1986 and the name was changed to Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, abbreviated as PITA. This Act has categorized victims into three categories:
Children (up to 16 years of age)
Minors (between 16-18 years of age)
Majors (above 18 years of age)

Section 3 of PITA punishes acts by third parties facilitating prostitution like brothel keeping, allowing premises to be used for such activities.

As per the new legislation, for child prostitution, the punishment includes rigorous for a term of not less than seven years but may extend to life and for minors, rigorous imprisonment for a term of not less than seven years and not more than fourteen years.

Measures Taken

The Joint Women's Programme began a mass campaign in 1990 against the devadasi problem which included: making propaganda material decrying the practice; a spot survey on the dedications; a National Convention to mobilize public opinion and presentation of a street drama.

The Judiciary has also expressed apprehension that India could soon have the dubious distinction of being a hub of child prostitution. In this regard, the Supreme Court had urged the Centre to weigh the need for creation of a special police force to tackle the problem.

Toughening its stand, the same Bench said the time had come for courts to deny bail to those accused of trafficking children and pushing them into prostitution. These observations came during a hearing on a PIL filed by NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan.

Former Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam, in 2010, had suggested making village panchayats a key instrument in tracking children and mooted the idea of maintaining a list of children suspected to have been trafficked for sex exploitation or as laborers, child beggars or street vendors. This list must be given to the nearest police station for registration of cases to trace them and bring them back to families.

Rescued children from neighboring countries must be provided with rehabilitation measures in relief centers by Child Welfare Committees and their embassies must be contacted so that they can be safely sent back home.


The measures taken to control/regulate the menace of child prostitution are extremely insufficient. All stakeholders involved need to be engaged completely to control this evil.

Police officers often overlook prostitution rackets and brothels where child prostitution goes on in full swing. Corruption, in the form of accepting bribery from brothel owners takes the rights of such children to the backseat.

Such cases should be publicized as much as possible to generate awareness; at the same time protecting the identity of the rescued child.

Literacy drives can go a long way at least in eradicating social customs like the devdasis which makes a mockery of religion to justify poverty. As could be seen, the Act enacted in this regard has failed to address the problem. The only rational way possible is to root out the ignorance of these people through the power of education.

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Author: Kailash Kumar17 Aug 2016 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 3

It is estimated that the child sex tourism industry victimises about 20 lakh children worldwide. Pedophiles use the internet to plan their trips for child sex tourism. Most vulnerable children are found generally in areas of low income. Thailand, Cambodia, India, Brazil and Mexico are notorious for child prostitution. In India about 12 lakh children are estimated to be involved in prostitution. Nowadays the webcam child sex tourism industry is also proliferating in which webcam sex performances are enacted for online predators on payment basis. At global scale 'The Code of Conduct for the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism' has been enacted to curb the menace of child sex tourism.

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