Are child prostitutes child workers? A case study

Montgomery, Heather (2008). Are child prostitutes child workers? A case study. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 29(3/4) pp. 130–140.



Purpose – Based on a case study of a small community in Thailand, the purpose of this paper is to analyse the explanations that child prostitutes give for selling sex. It looks at whether child prostitution can be considered as a form of labour and if children themselves understand what they do as work or exploitation. It focuses on children's relationships within their families and argues that international legislation calling for child prostitution to be abolished, while well meaning, is too simplistic and does not deal with the complex social relations underpinning prostitution and the lack of alternatives for many children.

Design/methodology/approach – This paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork and participant observation among a small group of child prostitutes in Thailand.

Findings – Certain children have very different understandings of prostitution to those campaigning to end the practice. They do not see prostitution as a form of work or necessarily as a form of abuse. Instead they claim it as a way of fulfilling perceived social and moral obligations to their families.

Research limitations/implications – The importance of listening to children themselves, even on such sensitive and emotive issues, is paramount as it reveals a gap between ground level realities and proposals put forward in international legislation.

Originality/value – The growing literature on child prostitution rarely takes into account children's own perspectives. This paper engages directly with children and takes seriously their own justifications and rationalisations.

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