Family finance difficulties forcing children into the sex industry | Pacific Beat

Family finance difficulties forcing children into the sex industry

Family finance difficulties forcing children into the sex industry

Updated 15 February 2012, 12:59 AEDT

A survey by the International Labour Organisation and Save the Children reveals that some child sex workers in Fiji are pressured by family members to prostitute themselves because of financial problems at home.

The survey includes interviews with 109 children below the age of 18 who are working as commercial sex workers in Fiji.

There is also concern about children working in hazardous environments, for example with pesticides, without proper protection.

The Ministry of Labour is establishing a child labour unit which will focus on setting up an inspection and monitoring system.

Marie Fatiaki is the national co-ordinator for TACKLE, Tackling Child Labour Through Education, a project set up by the International Labour Organisation.

She says the latests research includes five different studies on the exploitation of children in Fiji.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts.

Speaker: Marie Fatiaki, national co-ordinator, TACKLE - Tackling Child Labour Through Education.

FATIAKI: The first survey was conducted by Save the Children Fiji and it was focussed on looking at children in commercial sex work. And the second survey it looked at children working in child labour on the streets, the third survey was children in child labour in rural and agricultural communities. The fourth survey looked at children's work in informal and squatter communities, and the fifth survey was a school-based survey.

COUTTS: Well can was just run through those though, the sex industry, what did that reveal?

FATIAKI: Some 104 children were interviewed by Save the Children who worked in commercial sex work, the other five children in commercial sex work were interviewed by the Street Children Survey, and these are children below the age of 18 who make a living from commercial sex work.

COUTTS: Now was this the children's own choice, was there pressure from their parents and the community?

FATIAKI: Largely the survey findings revealed that it's, I'm not sure whether you can call it choice, but it's children's choice to do that type of work, that type of occupation. There is some involvement of parents and extended family in terms of the networking. Some parents and grandparents and extended family members they also collect the money that children receive from commercial sex.

COUTTS: Now is this pressure, like socio-economic pressure?

FATIAKI: Yes one of the main reasons for children getting involved in commercial sex work is because of financial problems at home as well as parental neglect, the breakdown of families. So those are the two real key reasons why children get involved in commercial sex work, as well peer pressure is a third reason.

COUTTS: Peer pressure? So once you're in it or those those who are in it who drag others into it?

FATIAKI: Yes and they think, they use the term a "glorified" occupation.

COUTTS: Now is it legal in Fiji?

FATIAKI: No it's illegal, it's prohibited under the Employment Relations Promulgation, as well as the Crimes Decree for any child below the age of 18 to be involved in child labour activities or commercial, such as commercial sex work, hazardous work, etc.

COUTTS: How prolific is it?

FATIAKI: Well we only interviewed 109 children of the total population but that was done within one month. So the research agencies felt that if they had stayed out in the field for longer than a month, they probably could have interviewed more children, but that's an assumption that we had.

COUTTS: And what were the kinds of questions that you asked in this particular survey of the children I guess they are if they're under the age of 18 who were in the sex worker industry, what kinds of questions were they asked?

FATIAKI: Well we used a questionaire that was gathered by ILO's international program on the elimination of child labour, the statistics department. So the questions were on the reasons why they got involved in that type of work, who are their clients, where do they work from, do they move around a lot, what pressure, what risks they face in the workplace, whether they'd been to school, what level did they leave school if they're out of school, whether they were still in school. It was quite a comprehensive questionaire. There was also a questionaire that was administered to adult sex workers who had gone into sex work before they were 18, while they were children.

COUTTS: Well what were some of the answers to those questions, what were the risks that they described?

FATIAKI: There were a few, some of them were physically abused and beaten up, whether by their clients or by the authorities if they get caught, also the risk of one of the clients being a relative and the whole family and community getting to know about this, many of them are verbally abused.

COUTTS: So we're also talking about incest?

FATIAKI: In terms of child abuse as a pathway, child sexual abuse as a pathway to commercial sex work, yes I think a lot of the children who were interviewed had been sexually abused at a younger age and then went into commercial sex work.

COUTTS: So you're also saying that some of their clients were also relatives?

FATIAKI: Yes, the local population, most of their clients are locals.

COUTTS: Now were they also saying that they were also going to school?

FATIAKI: Yes we had a number of children, about more than a quarter, a third of the total number who were interviewed are children who are in school.

COUTTS: Now there are a number of other surveys also for children on the streets, that rural and agriculture and the informal squatter segments. Were there similar kinds of questions asked in each of those sectors?

FATIAKI: Yes, both qualitative and quantitative data was collected, so all the children participated in answering the questionaire that was designed for children, as well as participating through focus group discussions to get qualitative date. So the street children survey results for example showed that a large number of children, particularly males above the age of 15 but below 18 are involved in hazardous work, and scrap metal collection is one of the main types of hazardous work that by street children, as well as children in informal settlements get engaged in.

COUTTS: So there were similar answers for the rural and the informal sector as well?

FATIAKI: In the rural sector a lot of children work with chemicals and pesticides without protection, and then we also have many children throughout the sectors, the street children sector, informal and agriculture, as well as a school based survey, who do a lot of transportation of goods and they identified the different hazards that they face in the workplace.

COUTTS: Now you've come up with three action programmes, what are they?

FATIAKI: The first action programme is implemented by the Ministry of Labour, the Fiji government, and it's establishing a child labour unit, and designing and developing a national action plan to eliminate child labour in Fiji. So that's the title of the action programme and it's focussed on setting up a child labour unit, as well as a centralised child labour data base, training all the labour inspectors and other inspectorates in the country through education social welfare, on child labour inpsection and social monitoring and pilotting a child labour monitoring system.

COUTTS: And that's for each of the three action programmes ?

FATIAKI: No this is just one action program.

COUTTS: So what are the others?

FATIAKI: The other action programs, one is implemented by Save The Children Fiji, and that is to withdraw a number of child sex workers from that type of work, and so it's on the prevention and withdrawal of children in commercial sexua exploitation in Fiji and the people's community network, the third action programme, is working on building the capacity of communities to tackle child labour and poverty in squatter settlements.

COUTTS: So a lot of it is to get the children off the street and stamp out child labour issues through education, but obviously from what you've been saying, you need to get to the whole community because that is where their clientele comes from.

FATIAKI: Yes, there has to be a holistic approach because it's not just about withdrawing children or preventing them from getting involved in child labour, but also working with their families, we have some family empowerment activities as part of this awareness and education campaign and putting in place some structural systems into communities, as well as in government, to be able to tackle the problem.

COUTTS: Hence the name TACKLE and when will this be implemented?

FATIAKIA: Well we launched it last Thursday, once the research results were released, directly after that the implementing agencies presented each of the action programmes and they were launched, so they've started.

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