In a joint Home Office and Department of Health report, the police, social services, probation services and courts were advised that child prostitutes should be prosecuted only in extreme circumstances.
Pilot schemes in Nottingham and Wolverhampton found 125 prostitutes aged from 11 to 18 - four times the number of child prostitutes previously thought to have been operating in these cities. The schemes led to the prosecution of 22 men and three women for rape, sexual intercourse with a child under 16, kidnapping, assault and living off immoral earnings.
The Government resisted calls to decriminalise prostitution for children, saying it would send out the wrong message, but said the courts should be used only in cases where the child "freely" and "continually" tried to offer sex for money. That definition would rule out almost all cases against child prostitutes.
The Children's Society charity argued that, unless child prostitution was decriminalised, those who were victims of abuse were still liable to be punished.
"This is bad law and dangerous practice. There is no excuse at all for a law that punishes abused children," a spokesman said.
The Association of Chief Police Officers said it welcomed the guidelines.Reuse content