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The BBC's Karen Allen
"Some are even as young as ten"
 real 28k

Anne Van Meeuwen, Barnardos
"We need action on the ground"
 real 28k

Sunday, 21 May, 2000, 01:49 GMT 02:49 UK
Child prostitutes 'victims not criminals'
Child prostitute
Girls as young as 13 are getting trapped in the sex trade
Paying for sex with teenage prostitutes should be treated as child abuse, according to government guidelines to be released on Monday.

Police, schools, health and social services staff will be expected to do more to help identify under age sex workers and treat them as victims rather than criminals.

Children's charities, such as Barnado's, will welcome the move which will target those who pay prostitutes, not the prostitutes themselves.

But the Department of Health guidelines - showing social services and other agencies how to deal with the problem - stop short of decriminalising child prostitution.

The guidelines make it clear that people who coerce, exploit and abuse children should feel the full force of the law and that only in exceptional circumstances should a child be charged.

Change of policy

Nobody knows how many girls are selling themselves for sex on the streets of towns and cities in England and Wales.

Research in Middlesborough, where authorities have started to use exclusion orders on curb crawlers, has shown that one in eight prostitutes are under the age of 17, with some as young as 13.

The shift in government policy aims to target the rising number of men willing to pay more for young sex workers.

But the announcement is only the first step towards greater protection for young sex workers.

The government is expected to set out ways to back them up with legislation next month.

According to Barnado's, which works with child prostitutes, men are increasingly likely to get away with sex with an under age girl.

The charity says Home Office figures show that in 1996, 210 children aged 17 and under were convicted for soliciting or loitering, compared to 101 in 1995.

Home Office figures also show that in 1996 there were just 204 prosecutions for unlawful sex with girls under 15, compared to 1000 in 1960.

Charities say new strategies to tackle the child sex industry will struggle without further funding.

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