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Home Emdad's Articles The hushed screams of tiny angels

The hushed screams of tiny angels

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All children, whatever their plight, are entitled not to be regarded as sexual commodities


Aliyah Ismail was found dead just a month before reaching the age of 14. Her body was discovered in a downtrodden, neglected and dilapidated abode in Camden Town, London, in the bed of her boyfriend (a 17 year old). Aliyah, (a name which has an Arabic  and Jewish heritage and means highly exalted) had been working as a prostitute in nearby Kings Cross had overdosed by taking twice the quantity of methadone that was required to kill her.

Liz Davies: Senior Lecturer Children and Families Social Work

Liz Davies, Senior Lecturer Children and Families Social Work London Metropolitan University conducted a serious case review on the Aliyah Ismail case in 1999-2000.

"Aliyah was never defined as a child in need of protection and so the Children Act 1989 S 47 ' duty to investigate actual or likely significant harm' was ot implemented" she said.
"There was no child protection conference and her name was therefore not on the child protection register. She had no multi agency child protection plan to keep her safe. Instead she was sent from one placement to another and each one broke down as there was no focus on
removing abusers from her life."

"Young teenagers are often excluded from the child protection systems because professionals think they can care for themselves. The guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children who are involved in sexual exploitation ( Dept of Health 2000)is very clear that procedures must be
in place to protect the child but also the abusers should be identified, targetted and brought to prosecution."
The horrors of child prostitution are experienced by children all over the globe. This is the sexual abuse of a child (often embroiled in poverty and neglect) by an adult in exchange of cash or even meals, clothes and kindness.

Prostituted children are pawns in a shadowy multi million dollar industry often run by illegal cartels and heartless criminals. Victims, both girls and boys and girls suffer hideous physical and emotional pain as a result of prostitution.

By and large most of the victims of this evergrowing menace are generally from underprivileged, pastoral families. In some countries they are destitute children living rough on highways and toll roads. In third world countries many children are flogged by family or relatives to scam artists promising income through employment (child labour) as a farm hand or something similar. Poverty stricken families see this as an opportunity to improve their financial plight and escape the destitution trap. Bizarre as it may seem and despite the ”I’d rather die of starvation than sell my kids” attitude usually prevalent in western societies, parents are often lured into traps through false measures. Some children may merely have no other alternative but to prostitute themselves in order to simply survive and exist.

The root causes are complex. Poverty, lack of opportunities for education or employment, homelessness, criminal networks and family breakdown are all important factors. Children from minority ethnic groups are particularly vulnerable, as are girls who are often seen as less 'important' than boys. Children are also increasingly seen as commodities in a global market who can be bought or sold.

The Children's Society is a United Kingdom children's charity working with over 50,000 children and teenagers every year, in 90 towns and cities. The charity is a voluntary organisation of the Church of England and works in partnership with communities, schools and families and to help children at risk on the streets.
The society has recently commissioned a project involving images of lost childhood, desolate playgrounds and broken dreams, which are the focus of photographs taken by teenagers who have been abused through, or are at risk of, sexual exploitation.

The powerful pictures, accompanied by poems and prose, were taken by 10 young women involved in the National Campaign on Sexual Exploitation – a joint initiative between The Children's Society and ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, child Pornography and Trafficking for Sexual Purposes).

Fiona Kidd, from The Children's Society who has co-ordinated the photography project, said: "Taking part in the photography project has been a reflective process allowing these young women to express their emotional experience in a visual way. We hope that these images will raise awareness of the damaging impact sexual exploitation has on young people's lives."

Among the photos are those taken by Sam* who was forced into prostitution at the age of 14 to pay for her drug addiction. She later managed to exit prostitution, beat her addiction and she now has a baby. Sam says her photos feature her baby's shoes because becoming a mother has made her realise how she was 'robbed of time when I was so young.'

Another teenager's photos feature an eerily empty playground, which she says represents a 'scary, lonely place that is open to predators.'
Fiona plans to take the exhibition on tour to further raise public awareness. She adds: "Showing these photos to the public is incredibly important to these young women; it makes them feel that what they have to say is valued and is worth listening to."

Barnardo's works with the most vulnerable children and young people, helping them transform their lives and fulfil their potential. It is the UK's leading children's charity, supporting 120,000 children and their families through 370 services in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife and Barnardo's President Cherie Booth QC has spoken at length of Barnardo's aims and said, “no child should grow up in poverty or in fear of abuse. No young person should feel alienated from our society. No parent should have to raise their children in an atmosphere of constant despair.”

In May 2004 the Sexual Offences Act came into operation in the UK, which following lobbying by Barnardo’s gave specific recognition to offences linked to abuse through prostitution and trafficking.  These include: 

  • Offences involving commercial sexual exploitation, which include
  • buying the sexual services of a child
  • causing or encouraging a child into commercial exploitation
  • facilitating the commercial sexual exploitation of a child, or
  • Controlling the activities of a child involved in prostitution or pornography.


The offence of trafficking people for commercial exploitation covers recruiting, harbouring or facilitating the movement of another person for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. This applies to persons trafficked across international borders and within the UK.

The guidance, together with the act, means that all Area Child Protection Committees  now have multi-agency protocols in place to identify children involved or at risk of being drawn in to prostitution.  Agencies should act to ensure the child’s safety and welfare, while police gather evidence for the prosecution of adults who abuse and coerce.

Barnardo’s operates 15 services for children who are sexually exploited or at risk and four ‘missing services’ for those running away and at risk of sexual exploitation. In the year 2004/5 these services worked with 2075 young people3.
However, the fact remains that very little is known about the scale of young people’s involvement in sexual exploitation.  One of the greatest difficulties is the hidden, clandestine nature of the activity, and it has been difficult for agencies to gain much more than anecdotal information. 

Contrary to the popular view of ‘young prostitutes’ plying their trade in inner city red-light districts, the evidence from Barnardo’s work is that many girls are kept out of view, in flats and bed-sits belonging to the men who control them.  Police statistics show that up to two thirds of child sexual exploitation goes on behind closed doors.

Research by ECPAT shows that girls, in particular, are being trafficked into the UK from Africa and Eastern Europe, for purposes of domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. Once trafficked, children are often controlled through violence or the threat of violence, debt bondage and a fear of authority. This makes it difficult for them to escape and seek help or to talk about their experiences. ECPAT campaigns against this modern day form of slavery and is calling on all relevant agencies to coordinate action on child protection and prevention of trafficking, and not just focus on law enforcement measures. ECPAT UK also calls on the UK Government to monitor and document trafficking cases and establish effective support and protection services for trafficked children.

Jo de Linde, Chair of ECPAT International  has said that: “Children and young people are not commodities. They are not merely statistics or even cases. They are the link between us and the future. They are that future. We cannot fail them."

A 2005 study supported by UNICEF in the Czech Republic provided evidence that children are still being sexually exploited, mainly by sex tourists from Germany and Austria, in the border region between the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria. In a common appeal to governments in the region, UNICEF Austria, Czech Republic and Germany, together with ECPAT, have issued a call for action and criticised governments for not fulfilling their commitments.  

The author Eva Vanickova, of the Third Medical Faculty of Charles University, compiled responses from 1,585 pupils from Cheb and Prague primary schools. The main findings of the research are as follows:

The majority of school children knew child prostitution exists (65% of children in Prague, 75% in Cheb).

A surprisingly large percentage of children claimed to have seen a child prostitute (12% in Prague, 29% in Cheb).

The way in which prostitution is viewed by children, was surprising: 18% of girls considered prostitution to be an opportunity to live a luxurious life; 24% of girls considered prostitution to be an opportunity for people without education to obtain money; 25% of boys considered prostitution to be an opportunity to obtain money for drugs.

9.5% of children in Cheb said they could envisage becoming involved in prostitution (in Prague only 6%).

Almost 14% of children in Cheb had already been approached by an adult person with an offer of sex for money (in Prague 10%).

Other important conclusions from personal interviews with children were:

  • Children living in certain streets in Cheb see prostitutes every day.
  • There is a lack of sexual education at school: most children have no idea how to act in a risky situation, such as being approached by a sex tourist.
  • Children do not know whom to contact if such a situation arises or how they can find help.
  • Many parents are worried about their children’s security and therefore do not allow them to go out and play in the afternoon.
  • Children do not have the opportunity to communicate openly on the topic of prostitution, with many teachers refusing to talk about the topic.
  • "Hookers and pimps" is a common game of young children in the parks.

UNICEF believes the issue of child sexual abuse, including prostitution, pornography and child trafficking in Europe, particularly in the border areas between East and West, needs to be made a priority and to be combated intensively.

The kidnapping and trafficking of children, child pornography and prostitution has become one of the biggest sources of revenue for gangs and syndicates all over the world.

Prostitution is a death sentence for many children. STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and AIDS/HIV, to which children are more susceptible, are rampant in the sex industries.

The Sexual Offences Act UK has addressed a number of issues on the sexual exploitation of children. However the only way the Sexual Offences Act and related measures in Northern Ireland and Scotland will be effective is if law enforcement agencies are proactive in investigating and prosecuting adults who coerce, exploit and abuse young people.

A key aspect is getting the child to recognise the situation for what it is, particularly where there is a ‘boyfriend’ involved.  Many girls will deny that they are being abused and blame themselves for what is happening.  They will often claim that they choose to live this way.  Only once they begin to look at the circumstances of their lives and realise what is happening to them can they begin to move on. 

It can be very difficult for young people, once they are exploited, to extricate themselves from such a lifestyle. For change to occur, young people need motivation and the ability to see and want an alternative to their present existence. 


  • UK Home Office research approximation point out that anywhere from a hundred to a thousand women are trafficked into the UK annually (Home Office, 2000).
  • Trafficking is worth an estimated $32 billion each year (ILO, 2005).
  • 2.45 million people are victims of trafficking annually, of which 50 % are children (ILO, 2005).
  • UNICEF reported that there were 250 child trafficking cases in the UK between 1998-2003 (UNICEF UK, 2003).



  • International: United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) – Ratified by UK on 16 December 1991.
  • United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2000) – Signed by UK on 14 December 2000.
  • Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (2005) – Not signed by UK.
  • UK:
  • Sexual Offences Act 2003 – criminalises trafficking for sexual exploitation into, within and out of the UK with maximum penalty of 14 years.
  • Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 – criminalises trafficking for all forms of labour exploitation with a maximum penalty of 14 years.
  • Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 – offence of trafficking into prostitution with maximum penalty of 14 years.


Child prostitution in the Philippines flourished during the 1970s and 1980s with the US Navy presence in Olongapo Bay. The base was closed for a short time, but has reopened for military exercises and recreation. In addition, an agreement was signed to grant immunity for prosecution for any crimes the military personnel may commit while in the Philippines. PREDA Foundation, a prominent local NGO, felt that this could only encourage the abuse of women and children and began a campaign to protest ratification of the agreement.

This is not an isolated case. The arrival of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) military detachment in early 1990s heralded an increase in child prostitution. In 1992, in Mozambique, soldiers of the UNOMOZ recruited girls aged 12 to 18 years into prostitution.
More recently, the presence of NATO-led troops in Kosovo has caused an increase in the numbers of bars and nightclubs across the province. Girls, some as young as 16, are held captive and forced to sell their services to the troops and businessmen.
According to a report prepared for the United Nations on the sexual exploitation of children in situations of armed conflict, the arrival of peacekeeping troops was associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution in 6 out of 12 countries studied.

(Source: Questions and Answers about Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. An Information Booklet by ECPAT International. 2001)

For further information please visit the following websites:

Emdad Rahman is an Education Social Worker and a school governor in the United Kingdom. He is also an active writer and freelance journalist. Rahman is News Editor at Bangla Mirror, an editor for UK-based Euro Bangla and an editorial assistant for the London Muslim. Rahman is also on the management team of Amani Foundation, a charity that works with women and children, he also teaches children at a cultural school and is a keen running enthusiast, often running in marathons to raise money for the foundation. Emdad is married with three children.

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