Action urged to stop child sex industry

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Adults in Britain are getting away with paying for and profiting from sex with children, the first national conference on child prostitution was told yesterday.

The Children's Society called for urgent action to tackle sexual exploitation, more commonly associated with countries such as Thailand or the Philippines, recommending a clampdown on adult offenders.

While no accurate figure exists on how many children are involved in prostitution, Home Office figures show that between 1989 and 1995, 2380 cautions were issued and 1730 convictions were secured against children and young people under the age of 18 for offences relating to soliciting.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the age of children on the streets is going down, with the youngest ever child ever cautioned for prostitution being only 10 years old. Between 1989 and 1993, four convictions were secured against 12-year-old girls and two against fourteen-year-old boys.

"We know from our work that these children have fallen through every safety net there is," said Ian Sparks , the Society's chief executive. "Many have been abused or neglected as young children and experienced disrupted and unsettled lives which leave them vulnerable to adults who target them for abuse.

"If there is one common denominator it is that these children and young people simply do not feel anyone cares about them. As a result they do not care about themselves."

Allan Levy, QC, author of the foreword of the charity's book Child Prostitution in Britain, told the conference: "The approach should be towards prevention. If that fails protection not prosecution should be the policy ... in view of a recent television play about an 11-year-old girl, her incantation 'pounds 30 for a blow job; pounds 25 for a hand job' should be ringing in our ears and featuring in our nightmares."

The Society called on the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute adults who abuse or profit from the abuse of children. Local authorities should also provide services for children on the street and safe accommodation for young people should be increased.

The charity, which is the largest single provider of refuge projects for child runaways, caused outrage after producing leaflets, with a Malaysian beach-style sunset, asking: "Why travel six thousand miles to have sex with children when you can do the same thing in Bournemouth?" Similar leaflets named Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Wales. On Wednesday the charity promised to distribute no more in Bournemouth after complaints.