Preventing child sexual exploitation

Would an international age of consent to sexual activity help secure the welfare of children?

Authored by: Jenny Pearce

The Routledge Handbook of Global Child Welfare

Print publication date:  February  2017
Online publication date:  February  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138942752
eBook ISBN: 9781315672960
Adobe ISBN: 9781317374749


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This chapter explores whether an international agreement on the age of consent to sexual activity would help to protect more children from sexual exploitation and promote global child welfare. In order to do this, the chapter firstly clarifies what we mean by child sexual exploitation (CSE), outlining global definitions, legislations and policies that aim to protect children from this form of abuse. It explores some of the difficulties in identifying prevalence and knowledge about sexual violence against children overall, and CSE in particular. It links the need for better knowledge of the forms and nature of CSE to other ‘international campaigns’ developed on behalf of children, such as the movement to prevent female genital mutilation, and early and forced child marriage. Importantly, the chapter also explores how the question of consent to sexual activity sits within understandings of childhood and in relationship to external contexts such as poverty, deprivation and questions of gender-based power dynamics. Furthermore, it addresses whether the age of consent to sexual activity is based on informed debate about lifespan and child development that has the welfare of the child as the centre of concern, or whether the age is socially constructed, determined differently according to social, political, economic and traditional practices that have the maintenance of societal norms as the centre of concern. Finally, the chapter concludes by summarizing how child sexual exploitation is a global child protection issue, and that the protection of children from harm would be advanced by a stronger consensus on global agreement on an age of consent for sexual activity.

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