Leading article: Why children sell themselves

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The Independent Online
There are no statistics on how many children in Britain are involved in selling sex. Research by leading agencies reveals most of the boys and girls involved are escaping abuse or broken homes, running from care, or using drugs. Without access to benefits, some children are selling themselves to survive. To further criminalise them as "sex offenders", as the law defines prostitutes, only prevents them from re-engaging with a society from which they are already excluded. Fining children for prostitution, meanwhile, only sends them back to the streets to earn the money.

Both the Children's Society and the Association of Chief Police Officers are now campaigning for prostitutes under the age of 18 to be looked upon as victims of child abuse. The Government has said that such a change in legislation would "send out the wrong signals". To whom? To pimps and the men who pay for child sex? To the children involved? Charities know that the only real way to end child prostitution is to restore benefits to under-18s so that they do not need to take such desperate measures. This might indeed send the wrong signals to a public wary of paying increased taxes. But while the debate goes through the motions, tonight there are British children selling sex because they have no other choice.

The life of a former child prostitute, page 5