Call to action to tackle global health impact of child prostitution

April 18, 2002

Authors of a review article in this week's issue of THE LANCET are calling on health professionals to join forces with NGOs, governments, and UN agencies to establish an international campaign against child prostitution.

Brian Willis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Barry Levy from Tufts University, USA, highlight how child prostitution has become a significant global problem that has yet to receive appropriate medical and public-health attention. Worldwide, an estimated 1 million children are forced into prostitution every year, and the total number of prostituted children is thought to be around 10 million.

The authors discuss how there is inadequate data on the health problems faced by prostituted children, who are at high risk of infectious disease, pregnancy, mental illness, substance abuse, and violence. They estimate that each year around 2 million prostituted children will be infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD); 300,000 will be infected with HIV; over one million prostituted girls will have an abortion (360,000 of whom will have an abortion-related complication). The authors also estimate that 2.5 million child prostitutes will be assaulted and 2.5 million raped; 7000 will be murdered; nearly all will abuse some substance; 6.7 million will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder; and 1.6 million will attempt suicide. Of the 2.3 million infants born to prostituted girls every year, the authors estimate that around 200,000 will die at birth, 237,000 will suffer complications due to maternal STDs, and 250,000 will be infected with HIV.

Barry Levy comments: "A coordinated international campaign is needed to prevent child prostitution, provide services to children who are prostituted until they can be removed from prostitution, and implement effective recovery and reintegration programmes. We propose that health professionals collaborate with NGOs, governments, and UN agencies to establish an International Campaign to Prevent Child Prostitution, akin to the successful International Campaign to Ban Landmines. For this campaign to be successful, it will require global coordination, implementation at national, regional, and community levels, and the leadership of many health professionals. The prostitution of children and the related health consequences have been accepted for too long. The time has come to make them unacceptable."
Contact: Dr Barry Levy, Tufts University School of Medicine, P.O. Box 1230, Sherborn MA, 01770, USA; T) +1 508 650 1039; F) +1 508 655 4811; E)


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