In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Child Prostitution and Pornography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Reference Works and Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Boy and Juvenile Male Prostitution
  • Transgendered Prostitution
  • Health Issues
  • Historical Accounts of Child Prostitution
  • Policy and Social Welfare Interventions
  • “Street Grooming” and Child Prostitution
  • Runaways and Street Children
  • Trafficking

Childhood Studies Child Prostitution and Pornography
Heather Montgomery
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0003


The subjects of child prostitution and pornography have been approached from several perspectives, including those of social welfare, the law, and juvenile justice, as well as from disciplines such as anthropology, psychology, and sociology. There is a vast amount of literature in all these fields that covers children’s motivations and experiences of prostitution and pornography, their vulnerability and resilience, attempts to remove them from this work, and the prosecution of those who buy their services. Girls feature more prominently in the literature, although some work on juvenile male prostitution has been done. The child prostitution literature discussed in this entry usually refers to girls, unless it is explicitly stated, or is clear from the title, that it refers to boys or to both boys and girls. In terms of prostitution, there is a split in the literature between children in the West and in the global South, the work on the former focusing on family breakdown and young people who have run away from home, and the latter concentrating on sex tourism and trafficking. There has been a great deal of discussion over the term child prostitution, especially when it involves paying sex tourists, and the preferred term for many activists, and some academics, is now ‘the commercial sexual exploitation of children.’ While this term more accurately conveys the abuse and exploitation inherent in these encounters, this entry uses the more general term child prostitution to encompass historical and contemporary studies as well as modern discussions. In general, there are also differences in the terminology used when discussing children in the West versus those in the South. The term child prostitution usually denotes persons younger than the age of eighteen when discussing children in the global South, whereas juvenile prostitution or youth prostitution is more frequently used when discussing young prostitutes in the West and can denote those up to the age of twenty-one. It should be noted, however, that many analyses of child prostitutes are actually about adolescents and older. In this entry, juvenile prostitution is the preferred term for work that focuses specifically on postpubescent adolescents, whereas the terms child, boy, and girl are used to describe younger children. There is, inevitably, an overlap between the terms, and ages of the children under discussion are not always given. Much of the work done on child prostitution and pornography is “gray’ literature, published by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and campaigning groups, and is written for the purposes of fund-raising or improving awareness of these issues. The most important of these NGOs is ECPAT, which was originally an acronym for End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism, now stands for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes. Although the work of NGOS such as ECPAT is valuable, it sometimes needs to be treated with caution, especially when dealing with issues of numbers. However, ECPAT, like other NGOs, has commissioned academics to write research reports and position papers, and many academics have published such peer-reviewed articles. It is vital, therefore, to look at where any particular text is published and by whom. The majority of the work done on this issue was published in the mid to late 1990s and early 2000s, when the sexual exploitation of children was a particular concern of NGOs and governments. Although the problem has not gone away, it does now attract less attention, and the focus has shifted to domestic child prostitution – trafficking in the USA and grooming in the UK.

General Overviews

The literature on child prostitution tends to divide into two categories: that dealing with child prostitution in the Global South (particularly that involving sex tourism and which categorizes anyone younger than the age of eighteen as a child) and work that looks at the issue in the industrialized West, which tends to refer to adolescent or juvenile prostitution and concentrates on those ages fourteen to twenty-one. Within these categories there is both theoretical work, analyzing the nature of the issue, and policy-orientated work, focusing on possible interventions. A sober and balanced account of the commercial sexual exploitation of children across the world is offered in Pearce 2017, An excellent background to the whole issue which explores where child prostitution fits into the overall discourses about prostitution and child trafficking is Doezema 2010. Although somewhat dated, Ennew 1986 is a seminal text, giving a comprehensive account of all aspects of sexual abuse and placing prostitution in a wider overall context. This work is brought up to date in O’Connell Davidson 2005 and Ennew 2008, which are invaluable sources and excellent academic starting points, particularly on the Global South. A short introduction to the subject, with suggested further reading, is given in Montgomery 2006. Saunders 2005 examines how and why child prostitution has become such an international concern, whereas Jeffreys 2000 looks at other aspects of the child prostitution debate, examining, in particular, whether there is actually any distinction between adult and child prostitution. Issues of child protection and the legislation in place to deal with the problem are discussed in Kelly, et al. 1995 and Klain 1999 (cited under Legislation to End Child Sex Tourism) in the context of the United Kingdom and the United States, respectively.

  • Doezema, Jo. Sex Slaves and Discourse Masters: The Construction of Trafficking. London: Zed, 2010.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781350222502

    Not written specifically on children but much of the analysis is highly relevant and children are discussed throughout. An excellent starting point for debates around the way prostitution is perceived and understood,

  • Ennew, Judith. The Sexual Exploitation of Children. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1986.

    Seminal work on all forms of child abuse, with important chapters on child prostitution, both in the West and in the Global South. Frames child prostitution in terms of the power relations between adults and children. Groundbreaking, clearly written text. The section on pornography is now very dated but the analysis of power relations inherent in prostitution and sexual abuse remains highly relevant.

  • Ennew, Judith. “Exploitation of Children in Prostitution.” Paper presented at the World Congress III against the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 25–28 November 2008.

    Excellent summary of the literature by one of the foremost academics working in this field. Written for an NGO audience but authoritative and academically rigorous.

  • Jeffreys, Sheila. “Challenging the Child/Adult Distinction in Theory and Practice on Prostitution.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 2.3 (2000): 359–379.

    DOI: 10.1080/14616740050201940

    Theoretical article on the differences and similarities between adult and child prostitution. Sees prostitution as a form of violence against both. Critiqued by sex-work activists.

  • Kelly, Liz, Rachel Wingfield, Sheila Burton, and Linda Regan. Splintered Lives: Sexual Exploitation of Children in the Context of Children’s Rights and Child Protection. Ilford, UK: Barnardo’s, 1995.

    Analyzes the specific situation of juvenile prostitutes in the United Kingdom, but a useful theoretical overview applicable to other Western contexts. Concentrating on children’s rights, it reviews legislative, policy, and practice responses and highlights gaps in knowledge.

  • Montgomery, Heather. “Child Prostitution.” In Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work. Vol. 1. Edited by Melissa Hope Ditmore, 98–101. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006.

    Short article for nonspecialists that gives an overview of the debates and issues that have arisen in studies of child prostitution. Useful starting point for undergraduates.

  • O’Connell Davidson, Julia. Children in the Global Sex Trade. Cambridge, UK, and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2005.

    Usefully read alongside Ennew 1986 and Ennew 2008, this is the most comprehensive overview of child prostitution and sexual exploitation worldwide. Also very good on theory. One of the best analyses of the global situation.

  • Pearce, Jenny. “Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.” In The Oxford Handbook of Sex Offences and Sex Offenders. Edited by Teela Sanders, 163–181. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    An excellent, introductory, up-to-date account of the problem and the main theoretical discourses and debates. Recommended for undergraduates.

  • Saunders, Penelope. “Identity to Acronomy: How ‘Child Prostitution’ Became ‘CSEC.’” In Regulating Sex: The Politics of Intimacy and Identity. Edited by Elizabeth Bernstein and Laurie Schaffner, 167–188. Perspectives on Gender. New York: Routledge, 2005.

    Historicizes the rise of child prostitution as an area of concern for NGOs and looks at how certain myths and stereotypes were created. Summarizes and critiques many important discourses.

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