Only 20 indictments were filed against clients of child prostitutes between 2013 and 2015, the Justice Ministry told Haaretz on Wednesday.
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Among underage prostitutes, the typical starting age is 13 or 14, but younger children have been exploited too, the authorities say.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was due Wednesday to propose an amendment to the criminal code to increase the punishment for clients of child prostitutes to five years in prison from three. The legislation would then be voted on by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.
Shaked has said it is illogical for the punishment of sex with a child prostitute to be less than for unpaid sex with a minor.
While the number of child prostitutes in Israel is not known precisely, the Social Affairs Ministry says there are at least 1,250.
According to the Social Affairs Ministry, at least 970 girls were known to the welfare authorities as prostitutes in 2014, along with around 250 boys. There were also an unknown number of underage transgender prostitutes.
In a report four months ago, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child criticized the government’s handling of the exploitation of young prostitutes. It criticized a lack of coordination among agencies and the absence of a concrete plan.
It said there had only been partial investigating and enforcement against sex offenders, and insufficient data.
At a November session of the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child, the head of the police’s youth division, Yitzhak Almog, said the low number of indictments against clients of child prostitutes might stem from police investigators’ unfamiliarity with the criminal code.
He said investigators might not be typing in the right codes for child prostitution.
“These aren’t cases in which someone comes and complains they broke into her house, but cases in which the police have to use intelligence sources and experienced street cops,” he said.
According to Almog, the starting age for prostitution is constantly shrinking, and much prostitution is going unreported.
“A girl who receives something, whether it’s money, jeans or some type of entertainment, has no reason to report [prostitution], without even talking about cases in which she’s employed by a pimp – and then she’s afraid to report it,” he said.
The police are preparing a pilot plan to increase police officers’ awareness of the matter; the program will include seminars and special training for investigators in the youth division, Almog said.