Children as young as 12 are working as prostitutes in Cardiff, according to a report to be published later this month, writes Michael Prestage. Research funded by South Glamorgan County Council and carried out by the University of Wales has found around 50 under-age girls involved in Prostitution in the city.
One aspect of the Cardiff research which reflects other national studies is the high percentage of child prostitutes in local authority care. The report says that local authorities should "consider ways in which the health protection and promotion needs of young people whom they look after can be better met".
Some young people have been introduced to prostitution while in care, the researchers add. "The local authority accommodation system and particularly residential units can create what one worker described as a 'network of opportunity'," says the report.
Mike Roberts, the Children's Society's social work manager for Wales, said there was evidence that social workers were "turning a blind eye" to the issue. The society is currently producing guidelines for care workers on how to deal with children at risk of prostitution and the University of Wales researchers have made detailed recommendations including the development of outreach services to reduce the risks that young prostitutes face. The Children's Society, which launched a campaign to decriminalise child prostitution last October, has applied to the Welsh Office for funding for two Cardiff field workers.
The report also suggests negotiations with police to help protect young prostitutes from their adult male clients. "Adults are regularly abusing and manipulating children and young people, yet it is the young people who are perceived to be the problem."
Home Office figures show that between 1989 and 1993, nearly 1,500 young people under 18 were convicted for offences relating to prostitution and a further 1,800 were cautioned. Cautions of girls aged 10 to 16 have risen by nearly 50 per cent over this period; convictions have risen by 10 per cent.