The sexual exploitation of children takes place in both developing and developed countries. However, there is no reliable way to determine the number of child victims of sexual exploitation for commercial purposes in the world.

The reasons for the lack of reliable statistics vary. For example, a common methodology of determining the number of exploited children has not been developed, and there is even no universal definition of what constitutes sexual commercial exploitation. Concerning child pornography, some children may not even be aware of their own exploitation, and therefore crime can remain unknown. Similarly, some children may not report crimes out of fear or shame. In some regions where this is a taboo subject, such as Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, evidence of the problem is primarily anecdotal. Until very recently, there has been no serious attempt to address the issue in these areas and very little research has been conducted.

Research on Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes

In regions where research has been conducted, generally data is not disaggregated adequately enough to present a true picture. This appears to be the case with trafficking research in particular. Reports seldom distinguish between persons who have been trafficked for sexual purposes and those who have been trafficked for economic or other purposes. Moreover, they rarely distinguish between trafficking in women and trafficking in children, and those that do rarely distinguish between children of different ages or between girls and boys.

There may be a wide variance in the numbers reported by different sources, often reflecting the vested interests of the source rather than the true nature of commercial sexual exploitation. For example, government sources may underestimate numbers, or completely deny the problem exists, in order to protect their international reputation. Some journalistic reports may tend to overestimate numbers in an effort to sensationalise the problem.

Research on child prostitution

Research on child prostitution tends to focus on its most visible forms, and where information is most easily accessible. This research does not provide an accurate analysis of the nature or the extent of child prostitution.

A great deal of the exploitation is clandestine. It occurs through contacts in nightclubs or bars, or through high-end escort services, where the abuse takes place in privately rented apartments. Information about this form of exploitation is more difficult to access.

Furthermore, since CSEC is an illegal activity, researchers attempting to collect data have been harassed, intimidated or threatened verbally or physically.