There are many inter-related, complex factors that contribute directly or indirectly to the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Social and economic circumstances cause some children to be more vulnerable than others. However, the question of consent is irrelevant when speaking about the sexual exploitation of children (“child” refers to individuals under the age of 18 as recognized by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child). Rather, social and economic factors can influence and shape the decisions made by children.

Corruption and lack of enforcement

Corruption and inadequate laws contribute to the growth of child commercial sexual exploitation.  Offenders are not held accountable when laws are not properly implemented. While not all law enforcement officials are corrupt, there is evidence of immoral acts within the police force. Either police commit sexual abuse themselves, accept a brothel owners’ offer of free services in exchange for their silence, or simply, do not act. If a government system is weak, corrupt law enforcement officials and organized crime units allow the continuation of child sexual exploitation.

As with most illegal activities, it is difficult to determine the overall extent of corruption. Traffickers may bribe border officials and some police will accept a brothel owners’ offer of free services in exchange for their silence. We must say here that not all police officers and law enforcement officials are corrupt. Although European legal framework relating to the fight against the commercial sexual exploitation of children continues to grow, it still remains that member states need to correctly transpose it into their national legislation.

Social factors

Social issues play a big role in the causes of CSEC. Poverty, lack of education, and unemployment can all contribute. In some cases, children are either sold by their families, or led by false promises to earn money. In other cases, individuals feel they have no other options to make money and turn to sex work. There may also be no support system for the child, which makes them vulnerable to sexual predators.

Gender and cultural beliefs that devalue young women and girls can also lead to sexual exploitation. Instilling these values makes girls feel inferior and more likely submit themselves to abuse.

Unstable societies with war and armed conflict can cause populations to be vulnerable and makes it easier for children to be sexually exploited.

There is also a growing trend tied to the consumer mentality that encourages youth to trade sexual favors for money or goods, such as cell phones, clothes, etc.

 Globalization

The cross-cultural exchange of ideas and values has caused the integration of various societies. Travel is much less expensive today and easily accessible. The rapid and global growth of the tourism industry has made airfares comparatively more accessible to new destinations. Exploiters make use of the facilities offered by tour companies, hotels, resorts, restaurants, airlines and other transportation companies. The economy of some countries is based increasingly on tourism, sometimes making the sexual exploitation of children by tourists a tolerated issue.

New technology

New technologies have facilitated the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including:

  • Production, distribution and use of materials depicting child sexual abuse.
  • Online solicitation or ‘grooming’ (securing a child’s trust in order to lure them into a situation where they will be abused).
  • Exposure to materials that can cause psychological harm or lead to physical harm.
  • Harassment and intimidation, including bullying.

The abuse online leads to serious consequences for victims. A picture posted online will remain and each new viewing is a new situation of child abuse.

The Demand

The commercial sexual exploitation of children is a business of supply and demand.  Without the demand, there is no supply. Media and culture can normalize the buying of commercial sex.  These actions become socially acceptable and can contribute to the thriving child commercial sex market. Easy access to child abuse material can also increase both supply and demand.