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File:Chinese girl from one of the Japanese Army's 'comfort battalions'.jpg

Rangoon, Burma. August 8, 1945. A young ethnic Chinese woman who was in one of the Imperial Japanese Army's "comfort battalions" is interviewed by an Allied officer.

Forced prostitution, also known as involuntary prostitution, is the act of performing sexual activity in exchange for money on a non-voluntary basis. There are a wide range of entry routes into prostitution, ranging from "voluntary and deliberate" entry, "semi-voluntary" based on pressure of circumstances, and "involuntary" recruitment via outright force or coercion.[1] Sexual slavery encompasses most, if not all, forms of forced prostitution. The terms "forced prostitution" or "enforced prostitution" appear in international and humanitarian conventions but have been insufficiently understood and inconsistently applied. "Forced prostitution" refers to conditions of control over a person who is coerced by another to engage in sexual activity.[2]

Legal situation

All forms of involuntary prostitution are regarded as an offence under customary law in all countries.[3] This is different from voluntary prostitution which has different legal statuses in different countries, which range from being fully illegal and punishable by death[4] to being fully legal and regulated as an occupation (in countries such as Germany[5], the Netherlands[5] and New Zealand[6]).

While the legality of adult prostitution varies between different parts of the world, the prostitution of children is illegal nearly everywhere in the world.

In 1949 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. This Convention supersedes a number of earlier conventions that covered some aspects of forced prostitution. It penalises the procurement and enticement to prostitution as well as the maintenance of brothels.[3] Additionally it also uses gender and race neutral language for the first time.[citation needed] The convention has been ratified by 95 member nations including France, Spain, Italy and Denmark;[citation needed] and not ratified by another 97 member nations including Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States[citation needed]. One of the main reasons it has only been ratified by around half of the world's countries is not that the other countries think forced prostitution is acceptable but that it also applies to voluntary prostitution.[3]

Child prostitution

Child prostitution is considered inherently nonconsensual and exploitative, as children, because of their age, are not able to consent to sex.

The Second Optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child is an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and requires states to prohibit the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

The Convention defines a child as any human being under the age of 18, unless an earlier age of majority is recognized by a country's law.

The Protocol was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000[7] and entered into force on 18 January 2002.[8] As of May 2009, 131 states are party to the protocol and another 31 states have signed but not yet ratified it.[8]

The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (Convention No 182) of the International Labour Organization (ILO) provides that the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution is one of the worst forms of child labor. This convention, adopted in 1999, provides that countries that had ratified it must eliminate the practice urgently. It enjoys the fastest pace of ratifications in the ILO's history since 1919.

In the United States, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 classifies any "commercial sex act [which] is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age" to be a Severe Form of Trafficking in Persons.[9]

In many countries, especially poorer countries, child prostitution remains a very serious problem, and numerous tourists from the Western World travel to these countries to engage in child sex tourism. Thailand, Cambodia, India, Brazil and Mexico have been identified as leading hotspots of child sexual exploitation.[10]

Forced prostitution and human trafficking

Internationally, the most common destinations for victims of human trafficking are Thailand, Japan, Israel, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the US, according to a report by the UNODC.[11] The major sources of trafficked persons include Thailand, China, Nigeria, Albania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine.[11]

Following the first international conference on the prevention of trafficking of women in Paris in 1885 a series of initiatives to restrict the trade of women into the sex trade were initiated. Both the League of Nations and the United Nations have addressed the issue.[12]

Due to the illegal nature of prostitution and the different methodologies used in separating forced prostitution from voluntary prostitution, the extent of this phenomenon is difficult to estimate accurately. According to a 2008 report by the US Department of State: "Annually, according to U.S. Government-sponsored research completed in 2006, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders, which does not include millions trafficked within their own countries. Approximately 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors, and the majority of transnational victims are trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation."[13] The United Nations stated in 2009 that estimates showed there could be around 270,000 victims of human trafficking in the European Union.[14] Not everyone believes that such large numbers of people are trafficked against their will. The Economist and Elizabeth Pisani claim that only a small proportion of prostitutes are explicitly trafficked against their will.[5][15]

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (also referred to as the Palermo Protocol) is a protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and defines human trafficking as the "recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation."[16] For this reason, threat, coercion, or use of force is not necessary to constitute trafficking, the exploitation of an existing vulnerability – such as economic vulnerability or sexual vulnerability – is sufficient. Sigma Huda, UN special reporter on trafficking in persons, observed that "For the most part, prostitution as actually practiced in the world usually does satisfy the elements of trafficking."[17] However Save the Children see explicit trafficking and prostitution as different issues: "The issue [human trafficking] however, gets mired in controversy and confusion when prostitution too is considered as a violation of the basic human rights of both adult women and minors, and equal to sexual exploitation per se. From this standpoint then, trafficking and prostitution become conflated with each other".[18]

Voluntary vs involuntary prostitution

With regard to prostitution, three worldviews exist: abolitionism (where the prostitute is considered a victim), regulation (where the prostitute is considered a worker) and prohibitionism (where the prostitute is considered a criminal). Currently in the Western World, two main tendencies oppose each other: abolitionism and regulation.

For the proponents of the abolitionist view, prostitution is always a coercive practice, and the prostitute is seen as a victim. They argue that most prostitutes are forced into the practice, either directly, by pimps and traffickers, either indirectly through poverty, drug addiction and other personal problems, or, as it has been argued in recent decades by radical feminists such as Andrea Dworkin, Melissa Farley and Catharine MacKinnon, merely by patriarchal social structures and power relations between men and women.[19]. William D. Angel finds that "most" prostitutes have been forced into the profession through poverty, lack of education and employment possibilities [20] . Kathleen Barry argues that there should be no distinction between "free" and "coerced", "voluntary" and "involuntary" prostitution, "since any form of prostitution is a human rights violation, an affront to womanhood that cannot be considered dignified labour" [21] . France’s Green Party argues: “The concept of "free choice" of the prostitute is indeed relative, in a society where gender inequality is institutionalized” [22]. The proponents of the abolitionist view hold that prostitution is a practice which ultimately leads to the mental, emotional and physical destruction of the women who engage in it, and, as such, it should be abolished. As a result of such views on prostitution, Sweden,[6] Norway [23] and Iceland [24] have enacted laws which criminalize the clients of the prostitutes, but not the prostitutes themselves.

In contrast to the abolitionist view, those who are in favour of legalization do not consider the women who practice prostitution as victims, but as independent adult women who had made a choice which should be respected. Mariska Majoor, former prostitute and founder of the Prostitution Information Center, from Amsterdam, holds that: "In our [sex worker's] eyes it’s a profession, a way of making money; it’s important that we are realistic about this (...) Prostitution is not bad; it’s only bad if done against one’s will. Most women make this decision themselves.”[25] Indeed, prostitution is considered a legitimate activity, which must be recognized and regulated, in order to protect the workers' rights and to prevent abuse. The prostitutes are treated as sex workers who enjoy benefits similar to other professions. The World Charter for Prostitutes Rights (1985), drafted by the International Committee for Prostitutes’ Rights, calls for the decriminalisation of "all aspects of adult prostitution resulting from individual decision".[21] Since the mid-1970s, sex workers across the world have organised, demanding the decriminalisation of prostitution, equal protection under the law, improved working condition, the right to pay taxes, travel and receive social benefits such as pensions.[26] As a result of such views on prostitution, countries such as Germany,[5] the Netherlands[6] and New Zealand[6] have fully legalized prostitution.

Global situation


In Europe, since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the impoverished former Eastern bloc countries such as Albania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have been identified as major trafficking source countries for women and children.[27][28] Young women and girls are often lured to wealthier countries by the promises of money and work and then reduced to sexual slavery.[29] It is estimated that two thirds of women trafficked for prostitution worldwide annually come from Eastern Europe, three-quarters of whom have never worked as prostitutes before.[30][31] The major destinations are Western Europe, Turkey, the Middle East (Israel, the United Arab Emirates), Asia, Russia and the United States.[32][33]


In 2002, the US Department of State repeated an earlier CIA estimate that each year, about 50,000 women and children are brought against their will to the United States for sexual exploitation.[34][35] Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said that "[h]ere and abroad, the victims of trafficking toil under inhuman conditions -- in brothels, sweatshops, fields and even in private homes."[36] In addition to internationally trafficked victims, American citizens are also forced into prostitution. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, anywhere from 100,000 to 293,000 American children are exploited through prostitution annually.[37]

Middle East

Israeli officials report a significant problem in human trafficking for the sex trade industry [38][39] — much of it involving women from Eastern Europe. Eastern European women are also trafficked to Turkey and United Arab Emirates.[40]

A high number of the Iraqi women fleeing the Iraq War are turning to prostitution, while others are trafficked abroad, to countries like Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Iran.[41] In Syria alone, an estimated 50,000 Iraqi refugee girls and women, many of them widows, have become prostitutes.[42] Cheap Iraqi prostitutes have helped to make Syria a popular destination for sex tourists. The clients come from wealthier countries in the Middle East [43] High prices are offered for virgins.[43][44]


In Asia, Japan is the major destination country for trafficked women, especially from the Philippines and Thailand. The US State Department has rated Japan as either a ‘Tier 2’ or a ‘Tier 2 Watchlist’ country every year since 2001, in its annual Trafficking in Persons reports. Both these ratings implied that Japan was (to a greater or lesser extent) not fully compliant with minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking trade.[citation needed] Currently an estimated 300,000 women and children are involved in the sex trade throughout Southeast Asia.[45] It is common that Thai women are lured to Japan and sold to Yakuza-controlled brothels where they are forced to work off their price.[46][47] Further in Japan, fatal prejudice and the absence of anti-discrimination acts often drive a transwoman into forced prostitution. In Cambodia at least a quarter of the 20,000 people working as prostitutes are children with some being as young as 5.[48] By the late 1990s, UNICEF estimated that there are 60,000 child prostitutes in the Philippines, describing Angeles City brothels as "notorious" for offering sex with children.[49]

For the last decade it has been estimated that 6,000 - 7,000 girls are trafficked out of Nepal each year. But these numbers have recently risen substantially. Current numbers for girls trafficked out of the country are now 10,000 to 15,000 yearly. This is compounded as the US Central Intelligence Agency states that most trafficked girls are currently worth, in their span as a sex-worker, approx $250,000 (USD) on the sex-trades market.[50]

North Korea

The North Korean state engages in forced prostitution. Girls as young as 14 years old are drafted to work in the so-called kippŭmjo. Not all kippŭmjo work as prostitutes; the source used is unclear as to whether only adult women are assigned to prostitution, or whether there is prostitution of children. Other kippŭmjo activities are massaging and half-naked singing and dancing. According to the same source from April 2005, “60 to 70 % of [North Korean] defectors [in the People's Republic of China] are women, 70 to 80 % of whom are victims of human trafficking.” North Korean authorities severely punish or even kill repatriated prostitutes and kill their Chinese-fathered children, born and unborn alike.[51]


Forced prostitution has existed throughout history.

Nazi Germany

Template:Npov Template:Confusing Elsewise than alleged on the internet forced prostitution by the Third Reich was not prevalent in occupied Europe during World War II.[52]

Germany established brothels in the concentration camps for sexual gratification of collaborating prisoners (Lagerbordell). The prostitutes working there came from the Ravensbrück concentration camp, to which women were brought for being prostitutes.[52]

Soldier's brothels (Wehrmachtsbordell) were usually organized in already established whorehouses or in hotels confiscated by the Germans. The women working there had mostly been prostitutes before or hired later, but no prisoners.[52] The leaders of the Wehrmacht were interested in running their own brothels, when sexual disease spread among the soldiers. In the controlled brothels the women frequently had a medical check for her own and the German soldiers benefit. On 29 July 1940 came the order to regulate the soldiers sex life and prevent diseases. Now on, free prostitution was forbidden and persecuted by the French police.

Comfort women

Comfort women is a euphemism for women working in military brothels, especially those women who were forced into prostitution as a form of sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.[53][54]

Around 200,000 are typically estimated to have been involved, with estimates as low as 20,000 from some Japanese scholars[55] and estimates of up to 410,000 from some Chinese scholars,[56] but the disagreement about exact numbers is still being researched and debated. Historians and researchers have stated that the majority were from Korea, China, Japan and Philippines[57], but women from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, and other Japanese-occupied territories were also used in "comfort stations". Stations were located in Japan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, then Malaya, Thailand, then Burma, then New Guinea, Hong Kong, Macau, and what was then French Indochina.[58]

Young women from countries under Japanese Imperial control were reportedly abducted from their homes. In some cases, women were also recruited with offers to work in the military.[59] It has been documented that the Japanese military itself recruited women by force.[60] However Japanese historian Ikuhiko Hata stated that there was no organized forced recruitment of comfort women by the Japanese government or military.[61]

The number and nature of comfort women servicing the Japanese military during World War II is still being actively debated, and the matter is still highly political in both Japan and the rest of the Far East Asia.[62]

Many military brothels were run by private agents and supervised by the Korean Police. Some Japanese historians, using the testimony of ex-comfort women, have argued that the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy were either directly or indirectly involved in coercing, deceiving, luring, and sometimes kidnapping young women throughout Japan's Asian colonies and occupied territories.[63]

See also


  1. Lim, Lean (1998). The Sex Sector: The Economic and Social Bases of Prostitution in Southeast Asia. International Labour Office. p. 39. ISBN 9221095223, 9789221095224.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Bantekas, Ilias; Susan Nash (2003). International Criminal Law 2/E. Cavendish: Routledge. p. 6. ISBN 1859417760, 9781859417768.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 "Prostitution: Sex is their business". The Economist. 2 September 2004. Retrieved 15 December 2009. Template:Subscription
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 "Policing prostitution: The oldest conundrum". The Economist. 30 October 2008. Retrieved 11 January 2010. Template:Subscription
  7. Template:UN document
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography". United Nations Treaty Collection. Retrieved 9 December 2008.
  9. "Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000". US State Department. 28 October 2000. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  10. Emilio Godoy (13 August 2007). "RIGHTS-MEXICO: 16,000 Victims of Child Sexual Exploitation". IPS.
  11. 11.0 11.1 "UN highlights human trafficking". the BBC. 26 March 2007. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  12. Altman, Dennis (2001). Global Sex. University of Chicago Press. p. 114. ISBN 0226016056, 9780226016054.
  13. "Trafficking in Persons Report, I. Introduction". 3 June 2005. Retrieved 30 January 2010.
  14. [1]
  15. Pisani, Elizabeth (2009). The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS. Granta Books. pp. 213 –214. ISBN 1847080766.
  16. "United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime", Annex II, Section I, Article 3 (pg. 42). Retrieved on 21 September 2009.
  17. Norma Ramos (Summer 2008). ""It’s Not TV, Its Sexploitation" Protest Against Home Box Office". On the Issues Magazine. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  18. "Definition of Trafficking". Save the Children. Retrieved 11 January 2010.[dead link]
  19. "Prostitution and Male Supremacy". 1993.
  20. Angel, William D. (1995). The International Law of Youth Rights. Martinus Nijhoff. p. 897. ISBN 0792333217, 9780792333210.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Lim, Lean (1998). The Sex Sector: The Economic and Social Bases of Prostitution in Southeast Asia. International Labour Office. pp. 14. ISBN 9221095223, 9789221095224.
  22. "Prostitution : les Verts opposés à la réouverture des maisons closes".
  23. "New Norway law bans buying of sex". BBC. 1 January 2009. Retrieved 19 January 2010.
  24. "A new law makes purchase of sex illegal in Iceland". 21 April 2009. Retrieved 19 January 2010.
  25. Allow Women to Sell Their Bodies to Earn a Living, Monitor (Uganda), Apr. 24, 2006.
  26. Amalia Cabezos (July 28 – August. 4, 1999). "Hookers in the House of the Lord". Santa Monica Mirror.
  27. Eastern Europe Exports Flesh to the EU
  28. Local women fall prey to sex slavery abroad
  29. Crime gangs 'expand sex slavery into shires'
  30. Eastern Europe - Coalition Against Trafficking of Women
  31. A modern slave's brutal odyssey
  32. Moldova: Lower prices behind sex slavery boom and child prostitution
  33. The Russian Mafia in Asia
  34. Worldwide Tragedy: U.S. Not Immune to Sexual Slavery
  35. Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000: Trafficking in Persons Report
  36. Modern Slavery: People for Sale
  38. Israel a Human Trafficking Haven
  39. Israel's Sex Trade Escalating CBS News
  40. World: Sex Traffickers Prey On Eastern Europeans
  41. Sexual Slavery on the rise in Iraq
  42. '50,000 Iraqi refugees' forced into prostitution
  43. 43.0 43.1 Iraqi refugees forced into prostitution
  44. Desperate Iraqi Refugees Turn to Sex Trade in Syria
  45. Sex-slave trade flourishes in Thailand
  46. "Woman's Dying Wish: to punish traffickers who ruined her life" The Nation, 23 January 2006
  47. A modern form of slavery: Trafficking of Burmese Women and Girls into Brothels in Thailand
  48. [2]
  49. "Britain to Take Action Against Sex Tourists". BBC. 1997. Retrieved 10 January 2010.
  50. "Lost Daughters - An Ongoing Tragedy in Nepal," Women News Network - WNN, 5 December 2008
  51. Intervention Agenda Item 12: Elimination of Violence Against Women” at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in April 2004; speaker: Ji Sun JEONG for A Woman's Voice International
  52. 52.0 52.1 52.2 Eine degoutante Realität. Die Wehrmacht unterhielt während des Zweiten Weltkrieges Bordelle in den besetzten Ländern
  53. Tessa Morris-Suzuki (March 8, 2007), Japan’s ‘Comfort Women’: It's time for the truth (in the ordinary, everyday sense of the word),, retrieved 2008-12-15
  54. Template:Harvnb.
  55. Template:Harvnb.
  56. Template:Harvnb.
  58. Template:Harvnb.
  59. Template:Harvnb;
  60. Template:Harvnb.
  61. Hata Ikuhiko (PDF), NO ORGANIZED OR FORCED RECRUITMENT: MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT COMFORT WOMEN AND THE JAPANESE MILITARY,,, retrieved 2008-12-15 (First published in Shokun May, 2007 issue in Japanese. Translated by Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact).
  62. According to journalist Satoshi Ikeuchi : "Even though the forcible recruitment of women was not systematically implemented, the (Japanese) government should acknowledge its moral responsibility if any single woman victimized by the private operators through fraud, exploitation, violence or other acts of intimidation comes forward to tell her story. The government should do so because the military gave consent to set up brothels for soldiers and had responsibility for overseeing them.» «In this context, the issue of the so-called comfort women was invested with extreme importance as the epitome of Japanese sin from the viewpoint of some and became the focal point of contention, The excessive effort by leftists and liberals in politicizing this issue as one of the few means left to shake conservative dominance, by extending the notion of coercion to the extreme, resulted in alienating a large part of the nation. Their open intention to collude with rising tides of hostile nationalism in Korea and China also hardened the minds of many in Japan." April 25, 2007. Satoshi Ikeuchi, Overcoming postwar mind-set, Daily Yomuri Online, April 25, 2007.
  63. Template:Harvnb.
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