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South Africa is emerging as a global economic powerhouse boasting the continents biggest economy and securing its position as the richest country in Africa. Despite this, South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world with persistent racial inequalities and widespread poverty. Children are particularly affected, with some reports suggesting that 60 percent of South African children are living in poverty. This, coupled with increasing incidents of adult mortality associated with HIV/AIDS, is creating a dire situation for children who become easy targets for sexual exploitation and trafficking.

South Africa has one of the highest levels of child rape in the world and research indicates that this form of crime is rising. Police estimate that rape cases increased by 40 percent in 2011 compared to 2008. Child rape is frequently fuelled by the false belief, common among many African men, that having sex with a virgin is a cure for HIV/AIDS (so called “virgin cleansing myth). Child rape is also regularly associated with cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children including the production of child pornography and the prostitution of children.

The nature of the prostitution of children in South Africa  varies and in some cases young girls enter into “relationships” with older men in exchange for money or other ‘rewards’. Often parents are complicit and may facilitate these relationships. Children from disadvantaged circumstances are particularly vulnerable to this form of sexual exploitation. It is estimated that a quarter of all boys and girls living and working on the streets in Cape Town are sexually exploited through prostitution.

To understand more about the commercial sexual exploitation of children in South Africa and what needs to be done, you can read the full report here.