There are three main inter-related forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children and teenagers. These are: prostitution, pornography, and trafficking for sexual purposes. According to the United Nations, child prostitution can be defined as: “the act of engaging or offering the services of a child to perform sexual acts for money or other consideration with that person or any other person.”1 Child pornography consists of material representation of children engaged in sexual acts, real or simulated, intended for the sexual gratification of the user. Sex trafficking is defined as: “…a pernicious form of slavery; it is the purchase of a body for sexual gratification and/or financial gain.” Addressing commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in the Bangladeshi socio-cultural context is not actively supported by local government agencies, since the issue is taboo and the problem is often ignored. Prevailing social norms and cultural practices significantly restrict the ability of children to voice their views and provide solutions to their problems. It is especially important at this time to breakdown these barriers for there is increasing recognition of the regional trends in HIV infection amongst vulnerable populations, notably amongst street children and children victims of sexual exploitation.
The huge gender disparities and inequalities existing in the country mean that problems faced by women and girls are not considered as matters of high importance. In addition, actions to combat the increasing rise in CSEC and the increased rates of HIV infection amongst street children and child victims of sexual exploitation are not being prioritized. In Bangladesh, sexual abuse and exploitation of children especially for commercial reasons continues to be a widespread phenomenon despite the adherence to the United Nations Child Rights Convention, and the enactment of rigorous domestic laws which are supposed to safeguard children from sexual exploitation, As a result, the country is not able to implement all the good intentions undertaken at the international level. In the country there are no reliable statistics on the number of children who become victims to this business. Children of all ages have been found to be subjected to sexual exploitation. But the teenage years are a particularly vulnerable time because it is often easy for those exploiting them to lie about their age and claim that they are over 18. Moreover, it is relatively easy to get access to adolescents, when they are not being accompanied by an adult, and lure them into an exploitative situation. And parents often consent to their teenage children being taken by traffickers. This is either because they are duped into believing their son or daughter is being recruited for a respectable job or because they are so poor or in debt that they think they have no choice but to consent to anything that will help increase the family income. It is difficult to know how many children are being exploited, as the shame, stigma, fear of reprisal and lack of belief in the authorities means that many do not report it.
The lack of accurate figures means it is of course hard to know whether the incidence of sexual exploitation of children is increasing or not. But various factors have certainly made teenage children more vulnerable: the erroneous belief that HIV/AIDS can be cured by having sex with a virgin; sex tourism which targets children; the growing use of the internet for child pornography; the increasingly international and organised nature of criminal networks; and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. It is the children who are already marginalised - the poor, and the uneducated who are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation because they and their families are the most desperate.