Sexualisation of Minors – Bane for Childhood

In Georgia, Pascha Thomas’ 5-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted in a restroom at an elementary school that adopted a gender identity-based access policy without notifying parents. 

The Kathua rape case refers to the abduction, rape, and murder of an 8-year-old girl, Asifa Bano, in Rasana village, near Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, India, in January 2018. A charge sheet for the case was filed, the accused were arrested, and the trial began in Kathua on 16 April, 2018.

If you check your Instagram, TikTok, Twitter or any other social media explore page, you’re more than likely to come across a specific type of online trope. Kids, as young as 11 and 12 years old, posting provocative pictures, posing in a suggestive manner, wearing unhealthy amounts of makeup, and overall, displaying adult behaviour. This is the result of the sexualisation of minors. We, as a society, have been conditioned by the media to see the phenomenon as normal or nothing unusual.

Danielle Cohn is the perfect example that comes to one’s mind. The young internet star gained the public attention when she started getting famous on the Musical.ly app. She was famous for her videos wherein she would dance to the tunes of suggestive or sensual songs, often wearing bikinis and be surrounded by a group of boys much older than her. She was 12 when it all began. Today, she is 15 and has had multiple failed relationships with much older men. She has also reportedly undergone surgical procedures to enhance her body and make it look more stereotypically feminine. Arguably, the worst part here is that her mother encourages her social media activities and calls her a “teen icon.” Danielle has millions of followers online, which means: a) millions of young minds that she can influence, are at her disposal and b) many paedophiles one the internet, are able to closely watch and fantasise about her as well as other young girls.

A recent poll of 2,000 teens found that nearly 75% had received pornographic direct messages from strangers, even if they had a private account. And 55% of victims of sex trafficking in 2015 met their abuser through a website, app, or text. This highlights the much-debated topic of children and their use of media. Many parents create social media accounts of their young children, exposing them to millions of people to see and observe. Not only does this put their privacy at a great risk, but also distorts their ‘self’ image and how it must be presented to the world. Children and young teens are now putting in more effort to look sensual and appealing, to the point where it all leads to vanity, body dysmorphia, self-confidence issues, and eating disorders.


Paedophilia and Its Dangers

A paedophile is an adult individual who feels sexual attraction towards minors, including teenagers, pre-pubescent kids, pre-schoolers, and even infants. It is a scary reality as paedophiles are among us all. Paedophilia is termed paedophilic disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and the manual defines it as a paraphilia involving intense and recurrent sexual urges towards and fantasies about prepubescent children that have either been acted upon or which cause the person with the attraction distress or interpersonal difficulty. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) defines it as a "sustained, focused, and intense pattern of sexual arousal—as manifested by persistent sexual thoughts, fantasies, urges, or behaviours—involving pre-pubertal children." Paedophiles, depending upon the density of the country, can be between 1-3% of the entire population of the country. So, for India’s staggering 1.3 billion population, there’s roughly more than 10 million paedophiles. It is more than the collective population of some countries; a number great enough to scare anyone. They can be your next-door neighbours, your co-workers or even family members. More than 60% of adults who have admitted to feeling sexual attraction towards children have been convicted for child molestation and even more have admitted to watching child pornography.

The market numbers for child pornography are spine chilling, to say the very least. It is an international, multi-billion dollar industry. Children as young as a year old are exploited sexually, and paid for, by their online watchers. Many parents, struggling with poverty resort to selling their children to willing audience and buyers. Where there is a demand, there will always be a supply. Consumption of child pornography is a more reliable indicator of paedophilia than molestation of a child, although some non-paedophiles also view child pornography. Child pornography may be used for a variety of purposes, ranging from private sexual gratification or trading with other collectors to preparing children for sexual abuse as part of the child grooming process.

The term paedophile is commonly used by the public to describe all child sexual abuse offenders. This usage is considered problematic by researchers because many child molesters do not have a strong sexual interest in prepubescent children and are consequently not paedophiles. There are motives for child sexual abuse that are unrelated to paedophilia, such as stress, marital problems, the unavailability of an adult partner, general anti-social tendencies, high sex drive or alcohol use. As child sexual abuse is not an automatic indicator that its perpetrator is a paedophile, offenders can be separated into two types: paedophilic and non-paedophilic (or preferential and situational). Estimates for the rate of paedophilia in detected child molesters generally range between 25% and 50%. A 2006 study found that 35% of its sample of child molesters were paedophilic. Such people are harmful for the society as they harm children and bring vulnerable kids to the world of prosecution and trafficking.

The M.A.P. Community

Recently, some people online have been identifying themselves as M.A.P., which stands for Minor Attracted Person. They are paedophiles who are open and proud about it. These people have infiltrated a large section of social media, where they post about their interests in children in the hopes of making more people join the community. They have chat-rooms and online groups where they share child pornographic content and contact information of children in the sex trade.

What is even more repulsive is that they call themselves a part of the LGBTQ+ community and ask for equal rights. Their argument is that paedophilia is a ‘sexual orientation’. So, they deserve to be treated the same way and given the same rights as the LGBTQ+ community people, including the right to legally marry a minor.

It must be made very clear that paedophilia in no way, is a sexual orientation. It is a registered criminal offense and psychiatric disorder. A person experiencing sexual attraction to minors is, in fact, mentally troubled. Berlin is one of the few places that offers preventive therapy to such people in hopes of reducing their urges to offend a minor by the means of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and a form of chemical castration. It has been proven to be effective to some extent. However, the records were self-informed by the paedophiles themselves, so their authenticity may be questionable.

The Contribution of Media

Over the last few decades, with the rise of television and the internet, we have been able to acquire the world at our fingertips. This comes along with the massive consumption of pop culture and different forms of entertainment. This has n turn led to the increase in the number of times a minor is sexualised for millions of adults to see.

This theme is prominent in the Korean Pop music culture where ‘Idols’, who are trained entertainers, are scouted and debuted by entertainment companies to sing and dance in groups. The Idols must carry a ‘Group Concept’, which is the image that they promote. Countless Idols debuted when they were under-aged, which led to children being marketed as ‘sexy’ and ‘desirable’. A famous example of this syndrome is Hyuna, a female singer who was marketed as the ‘sexiest member’ of the group she debuted with, at the age of 14. Tzuyu, from the world-famous group TWICE, is thy e youngest member who was introduced with a ‘mysterious sexy aura’ at the age of 16, dancing provocatively in an elevator.

The worst example, however, is of Ella Gross. The South Korean child model appeared in an ice-cream commercial at the age of 11, when she was called ‘sexy’, ‘desirable’, ‘sensual’, and many other such names by adult men in the comment section.

Japan too, is notorious for its Idol market, where girls as young as 6 years old, sing and dance in front of a live audience comprised of adult men. These men claim to be their fans, who later pay to receive hugs and photographs with the girls. 

What Does This Mean?

This leads us to an idea that is often overlooked. Young children must be allowed to live their lives as they are supposed to. Children should be allowed to have a childhood. Parents must not rob them of it; they have no right to do so. Moderating the media your child consumes is crucial for it helps them shape their world. Let them realise the temporary nature of the ‘virtual reality’ that is social media. Letting them have meaningful and fruitful childhood experiences is important, and so is shaping them to be good individuals, who have good role models to look up to.

People who identify as M.A.P.s or are closeted paedophiles need both psychological and social help. One never knows when they may act out on their urges and ruin a child’s life. So, prevention and containment is necessary. If convicted, they must serve severe sentences and repent for their actions. Even in prison, where the lowest of the low reside, paedophiles have a hard time. It is the most disrespected form of crime; such offenders are often bullied and even killed by fellow inmates.  

Effects on Children and Society

Low self-esteem as well as issues with self-image and emotional growth were broadly thought to be the result of untimely sexualisation. Expanding rates of eating clutters in both young ladies and boys were routinely cited as being due to the sexualisation of children, which was said to make children consider weight and body picture more pivot. Children made judgements around sex, within the setting of 'love and relationships'. They were exceptionally concerned about the tolerability or appropriateness of sexual conduct or sexual pictures, especially in public settings. Media, over time, has presented very little evidence to show that the children are being morally corrupted or led towards a kind of amoral cynicism. There is direct connection between the inappropriate sexualising of children and measurable harm, such as body image dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, poorer academic performance, depression and anxiety. Sexualisation was linked with three of the most common mental health problems in girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression or depressed mood. The ARCSHS conducts a five-yearly regular survey into the 'sexual health, behaviour, attitudes and knowledge of young people'. Results for the 2003 survey confirmed that young people are becoming sexually active at 16, on an average. They are also engaging in a wider range of sexual practices for a longer period until marriage. Children felt that they indulged in sexual activity as ‘unwanted sex’ while being drunk or because of use of force by the partner. These children don’t understand the complexity of relationships and life. They are exposed to sexualisation and thus, face huge problems. Many teenagers complain about cyber-crimes. They face humiliation, resulting in mental trauma and depression at such a small age. Many children lose the actual essence of childhood and ultimately, their confidence too. Also, such children and teenagers are more prone to sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhoea, cancer, etc. These arise due to the ignorance and immaturity of children.

How to Stop the Sexualisation of Minors

Lessons about the dangerous consequences of viewing porn, sexting, etc. should be made part of the sex and relationship education (SRE) curriculum. Teachers need to be well trained and provided with appropriate resources to deliver such lessons effectively. It may also be necessary to alert younger children (10-11 years) about these dangers. This would need to be handled very sensitively and again. It would be wonderful if we could limit the viewing of porn by young people. However, it is very unlikely that we will ever be able to stop it completely. We must educate our children about the dangers and consequences of viewing porn, so that they can make sensible decisions for themselves.

The lessons should aim to shift the focus from idealized body image to healthy bodies that are fit-for-purpose. Healthy diet and appropriate exercise are important, but everyone should be encouraged to feel proud of their body irrespectivbe. Schools must also implement measures to raise self-esteem of all pupils.

Parents need to listen to children and not let them feel lonely. Keep an eye on their activities and advise them about social media and social life. Instead of scolding, try to make them understand things through your friendly talks. Parents also need to try that the child may not watch porn, adult movies, etc.

Also, it is mandatory for cinema and television media to stop portraying children as sexual object, children marriage, attraction of boys towards girls, flirting etc. Such things, if not avoided, are get stuck in the mind of children.

There is a collective need to support kids with love. Stop criticizing, insulting, or ignoring and try to advise and help them. All the blaming and commenting makes the children feel distorted, different, and lonely. Try to consult child psychologists and show the right path to children.

Asha Akanksha Foundation
great thoughts