Child Prostitution Cannot Be Ignored

There are apparently thousands of minors involved in prostitution, and their age is getting younger all the time. It is getting difficult to explain the lack of data concerning them as merely a mistake.

In 1997, the first public committee established to discuss the problem of minors involved in prostitution announced that it “couldn’t determine the exact number of minors under sexual exploitation,” and recommended that research be undertaken to reveal the extent of the problem. Seventeen years later, another public report, released last week, comes to similar conclusions: “At the moment, no official body in Israel has precise figures regarding the extent of prostitution of minors.” After so many years, it is difficult to explain this lack of data as merely coincidental or a mistake. Instead, it shows that this social problem has been shunted to the margins. Assistance groups estimate that there are thousands of minors involved in prostitution, and that their age is getting younger all the time.

The new report, written by a team of senior officials from six government ministries (justice, education, social affairs, interior, health and public security), and the police and various assistance groups, must lead to a reversal of this ongoing neglect, the outcome of which can clearly be seen in the difficulties in finding and treating boys, girls and transgender individuals involved in prostitution, as well as the minimal extent of law enforcement and punishment of pimps and people who exploit minors sexually.

The report recommends significantly expanding efforts to identify minors involved in prostitution and establishing training programs for teachers, counsellors, social workers, health-care workers, etc., who will help find these young people. It also recommends opening new frameworks to treat and rehabilitate such minors; creating programs suited to specific groups; examining the possibility of increasing penalties for people convicted of using minor prostitutes, and other steps.

In coming weeks, the various government ministries are to formulate a plan to put the report’s basic recommendations into action, and to estimate the funding required to do so. While some of the recommendations – such as changing laws or updating procedures – do not involve additional funding, there is no doubt that money will be needed: to redress the lack of emergency frameworks, to locate those in need, and to implement the long-term and complex rehabilitation process.

This is the test for the government’s true commitment to deal with the problem of prostitution among minors. The people claiming that treatment of this problem should not come from existing budgets are right, as present budgets are sufficient only for the teetering social-service infrastructure.

Publication of the report is an essential first step to remedying the situation. Its recommendations should serve as a compass and receive the funding they deserve. The government must complete the task and fight, even belatedly, this moral and social injustice.