In Cyber Safety, The Digital World

Child Exploitation Definitions

Since 2003, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has rescued thousands of children from adults who exploit them on the streets or the internet. In June 2014, and as per this article on, authorities in 106 cities across the US rescued 168 children from human traffickers. The FBI also arrested 281 adults responsible for selling these children for sexual exploitation.

|SEE ALSO: Child Trafficking: History and Present Dangers|

Many of the children the FBI rescued did not appear on any missing child reports. These unreported missing children make catching human traffickers more difficult as they prey on young people searching for adult acceptance. Called ‘throwaway children’, these young people turn to the streets and become victims of commercial child exploitation.

Child exploitation definition

According to this page on, child exploitation is the act of using a minor child for profit, labor, sexual gratification, or some other personal or financial advantage. Child exploitation often results in cruel or harmful treatment of the child, as the activities he or she may be forced to take part in can cause emotional, physical, and social problems. In other words, exploitation happens when an adult uses coercion, manipulation and/or force on a minor to perform any action in exchange for money or gifts.

Children become victims of several types of exploitation, including:

  • Sexual exploitation
  • Child labor exploitation
  • Forced military service

The most familiar form of exploitation, sexual, overshadows other categories in news reports because the idea that any adult would use children in this way is repugnant to society as a whole.

The definition of commercial sexual exploitation of children

Child sexual exploitation happens when an adult uses coercion, manipulation or the power of authority to force a person under the age of 18 to participate in sexual activity. The activities included under federal laws incorporate:

  • Explicit acts with a minor
  • Possession of nude or partially nude photographs, whether they depict explicit acts or not
  • Distributing pictures of nude, semi-nude or unrecognizable children
  • Trafficking minors for any reason

Child predators

People who target children know how to gain their trust and convince them to keep their relationship a secret. In our article Learning From the Alicia Kozakiewicz Story, we explain the concept of ‘grooming’, and how, in this day and age, online predators are a very real danger, especially for younger children and teenagers. According to this fact sheet on, an estimated 325,000 children in the United States, Mexico and Canada are at risk each year for becoming victims of sexual exploitation. It also states that a history of physical and sexual abuse is often common among victims, including many who have suffered from this abuse at home.

Predators gain control over these children by:

  • Targeting vulnerable kids looking for validation
  • Tricking them with kind words, gifts and promises of a loving relationship
  • Controlling them with physical and psychological force so they stay out of fear

In our article What Is a Predator?, we reveal that sexual predators are not always strangers. In most reported cases they are family members, close friends and neighbors. It is generally someone the child already has an established relationship with. Predators will often convince their victim that they share a normal, loving relationship. When caught, they tell authorities the relationship was consensual or the child initiated the affair.

According to federal law, consensual relationships with minors do not exist. Only people 18-years of age and older can legally consent to sexual relations. This page on displays the citizen’s guide to U.S. federal law on the prostitution of children.

Trafficking children

The most heinous and brutal form of child exploitation is the organized trafficking of children for the purpose of profit through sexual abuse. In our article Child Trafficking: History and Present Dangers, we reveal child trafficking statistics that show that children are bought and sold by the millions every single year for sketchy, illegal purposes.

Children become victims of people or groups that take them in and treat them kindly until a bond forms. Once the adult has control over the child, they begin prostituting them and use threats or physical abuse to keep them under control.

Because of the trauma involved with this crime, the rescued child may:

  • Have a seemingly strong bond with the pimp
  • Refuse to implicate the pimp in any sexual activity
  • Want to return to the pimp

Internet trafficking

Putting an end to the sexual exploitation of children became harder with the advent of the internet and the anonymity it provides. Using social media websites, adults can pose as peers to gain trust and over time arrange to meet the child secretly, or talk them into providing pornographic pictures.

Adults convince the victim to take nude pictures and send them via messaging or email. Any means used to transmit or send sexually suggestive images of minors are illegal in the United States.

Stopping this threat to children starts at home and the monitoring of children’s cell phone and internet usage. In our article Family Safety on the Internet, we highlight the importance of talking to children about the dangers of internet predators and explaining that the person with whom they speak can end up hurting them. Such conversations should take place way before the child starts using the computer.

Parents sometimes ignore signs that their child is keeping a secret. Children in contact with predators often:

  • Spend more hours on the internet
  • Isolate themselves from their families while on the computer or cell phone
  • Stop hanging out with friends
  • Show no interest in the family or in activities they enjoyed in the past
  • Become belligerent or withdrawn when questioned about their personal lives

Monitoring internet activity and making a child angry pays off when compared to living in a home with a missing or dead child.

The global commercial child sex trade

Globally, the sexual exploitation industry affects millions of children. Enslaving children for profit breaks the laws of human rights, but stopping the practice in poor countries proves difficult.

In Cambodia, a poor nation riddled with governmental corruption, desperate families prostitute their adolescent daughters to local men and tourists. This report on tells some of these stories. In a country where some people live on less than a dollar a day, the prostitution of girls seems a way to pay debts and still have food.

Finding an end to the sexual exploitation of children around the world takes precedence for organizations including:

These groups go on rescue missions, putting their lives in danger to save children. Often, brothels receive word of the rescue team before they arrive because of corrupt police and government officials.

Extreme labor

Extreme child labor deprives children of their childhood, an education and self-esteem. In some cases, it ends their lives. According to this page on, children represent 16 out of every 100 workers worldwide, and many work in deplorable conditions.

Children work in dangerous conditions with hazardous materials and often go unpaid. The work they do includes:

  • Manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Agriculture
  • Mining
  • Domestic services

Many children work as slaves to pay debts owed by their parents. Others work in the illegal drug trade or as organized street beggars.

It may come as a surprise to know that, in the turn of the century United States, children worked in mines, manufacturing plants and as servants in households. An estimated 2-million American children worked 12-hours a day, 6-days a week in 1911. This article on the Social Welfare History Project website explains that mine owners preferred hiring children because they were viewed as more manageable, cheaper, and less likely to strike. Their size also allowed them to work in smaller spaces. Children died with adults in mine accidents until the laws forbidding this type of labor were finally passed.

As recently as the 1970s and 1980s, children worked long hours for little pay as actors on television programs and movies. This form of exploitation went unnoticed until former child stars came forward to tell their stories.

The exploitation of child actors

Depending on a child to support a family falls into the category of child labor exploitation. In the movie and television industries, some parents deprive their children of their childhood by forcing them to continue acting to support their lifestyles.

Jackie Coogan, the first child star to make big-money from acting in movies, found out his parents had spent all his earnings when he returned from military service. He sued his parents and received a little over $100,000 of the more than $4-million he earned as an actor.

His case prompted the first laws passed to protect child actors. The Coogan law protects 15-percent of a child star’s assets by mandating the money go into a trust fund the actor can claim when 18.

Child stars have reported more than missing wages, they also report sexual molestation and threats of violence if they spoke to anyone about what happened. Several of these stars turned to drugs and alcohol for comfort.

Those who made it through childhood fame into productive adulthood cite several reasons they did not succumb to the fate of so many of their peers. They all give the same opinions, which include:

  • Strict parents
  • Education
  • The freedom to quit acting when they chose

The common thread

Groups like UNICEF work in countries where child labor exploitation continues to grow due to poverty. They focus on children going to school and receiving an education so they can break the pattern of poverty in their communities, as explained on this page from the UNICEF website.

Parents resist allowing their children to attend school because they need the money they earn to live. Like the child stars in Hollywood, the availability of an education will save those who can attend school.

Children soldiers

Seeing little boys in uniform, carrying a rifle taller than them, becomes commonplace as militaries force children into service. Africa sees the most children forced into military service until today, according to this page on the International Committee of The Red Cross website. Young people carry supplies or gather intelligence, and these children also carry arms and participate in battles, which take young lives or leave psychological and physical scars that never heal.

The Geneva Convention protects children from the horrors of war, but the laws go ignored in war-ravaged nations. The American Red Cross and other organizations continue to fight for children’s rights worldwide.

As a part of society with little say in what happens to them, children fall prey to exploitation of all types. Putting an end to it means educating adults and allowing children the opportunity of their own education.

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