Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is a severe problem in India, but most offenders are hardly prosecuted. While it is difficult to know the extent of CSEC given the clandestine nature of the industry, estimates suggest there are around 3 million prostitutes in India, of which an estimated 40 percent are children¹. Most girls who end up in prostitution typically come from ethnic minorities and lower castes. Poverty, the gender imbalance and the position of women are major driving factors. The majority of girls from rural areas are lured into prostitution while searching for a better future or under false pretences; some girls are tragically sold or kidnapped by family or friends. Moreover, there are few convictions of the offenders, for example, brothel keepers and traffickers. Cases are often dropped due to lack of evidence and there is insufficient capacity in the courts and legal system to deal with the multitude of cases.
The infamous Delhi gang rape in December 2012 shocked the public and led to increased openness and debate about sexual violence against women. Whilst sexual violence has become an issue on the agenda, little attention is paid to the problem of child prostitution. The girls working in brothels are often viewed as inferior and as so-called ‘bad’ low-caste girls by society. The public sentiment is that at least the young girls are able to work as opposed to living on the streets. Society ignores the violence that is perpetrated against these girls and the countless rapes that they suffer on a daily basis. The public is often unaware that most girls are trafficked, have not consented to the so-called ‘work’, and are not paid for it. Girls that are forced into prostitution become severely traumatised and often suffer from HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases and illnesses.