Child Exploitation

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. To explore this concept, consider the following child exploitation definition.

Definition of Child Exploitation


  1. Using a minor child for profit, power, status, sexual gratification, or some other purpose.

Origin of Exploitation

1795-1805        French exploit +-ation

What is Child Exploitation

Unfortunately, there is a large market and interest in using children of all ages for cheap labor, sexual purposes, child pornography, and other purposes. Many individuals taking part in child exploitation do it because there is a large profit to be made, essentially selling the services of children, or the children themselves, to others. Others use children to create child pornography, or for personal sexual gratification.

Laws regarding exploitation of children vary by state, and children are protected by federal laws as well. Penalties for those convicted of child exploitation in any form are severe. This crime can be divided into two types of exploitation: sexual and economic.

Sexual Exploitation of a Child

Sexual exploitation of a child is defined as the act of employing, using, persuading, inducing, enticing, or coercing a minor child to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing visual depictions. Actual acts that are considered sexual exploitation of a child include:

  • Indecent touching or exposure of or to a child
  • Use of sexually explicit language towards a child
  • Involvement of a child in pornography
  • Showing a child pornographic material
  • Early, forced marriage
  • Rape
  • Incest
  • Sexual slavery

Sexual exploitation of a child also includes transportation of a minor from one state to another, or to a foreign territory, with the intent of engaging the child in any of the acts listed above. This type of child abuse often involves an adult abusing his or her position of authority or trust for sexual purposes.

For example:

Mr. Robertson is a middle school teacher who likes very young girls. Amanda is a 13-year old ‘B’ student who sits in the front of his class, with her long, blonde hair, and striking blue eyes. Mr. Robertson engages Amanda, asking her to help him grade papers after school, promising to help her bring her grade up to an A if she wants. Amanda trusts her teacher, and so begins going to his class each day after school is out.

Mr. Robertson gets physically closer to her each day, often standing right behind her, or reaching over her to “help” her with her work, and soon begins touching Amanda in ways that make her uncomfortable. As the touching becomes more intimate, Mr. Robertson warns Amanda that she shouldn’t tell her parents about their “relationship,” because they wouldn’t want their little girl to be so grown up. Mr. Robertson has used his position of authority and trust, as Amanda’s teacher, to commit child sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation of a child, which is a felony.

Economic Exploitation of a Child

Economic exploitation of a child, also referred to as “criminal exploitation of a child,” refers to the use of a child in any way for economic gain. This often includes child labor, child slavery, child sex tourism, and even the “sale” or illegal adoption of children for profit. Children are often used to help sell and distribute illegal drugs, and in some war-ridden countries, children are recruited as soldiers, and forced to fight.

Child Exploitation Laws

Child exploitation laws in the U.S. allow for strict prosecution and tough punishment for those who exploit children. A number of law enforcement agencies, both local, state, and federal, investigate child abuse and exploitation. The U.S. Child Exploitation Investigations Unit (CEIU), a division of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), focuses on putting an end to child exploitation. The CEIU uses cutting edge technology and investigative techniques to track down offenders, and bring them to justice.

In its efforts toward eradicating child exploitation, the CEIU collaborates with other groups, including the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and other agencies in 40 countries around the globe. The CEIU encourages the public to report suspected child predators, as well as suspicious activities involving child exploitation, through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE, which is staffed by investigators 24 hours a day. Suspected child exploitation may also be reported using the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s cyber tipline.

Penalties for Child Exploitation

In all U.S. jurisdictions, child exploitation is a felony, subjecting the offender to very serious criminal consequences. Penalties for child exploitation vary slightly by jurisdiction, and depending on the specific details of the crime. Potential penalties for first time offenders include:

Offense (first-time conviction)


Production, possession, or distribution of child pornography Imprisonment for 15 – 30 years
Transporting child pornography Imprisonment for 5 – 20 years
Facilitating sex with a child, or participating in any child exploitation crime Imprisonment for up to 30 years
Trafficking of children for prostitution Life imprisonment

All sentences increase in severity for offenders with prior child exploitation offenses, or other felony offenses. In some jurisdictions, sentencing may be ordered to run consecutively, if the offender is convicted of multiple counts of child exploitation. This means that the sentence for each act would not begin until the previous sentence has been served.

Real Life Child Exploitation Cases

Child exploitation occurs in every community, usually without the perpetrator’s family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers knowledge.

Teacher Pleads Guilty to Producing Child Pornography

In January, 2012, a school teacher in Clovis, California, was charged with four counts of producing child pornography, and pled guilty to two counts of exploitation of a minor, as part of a 14-page plea agreement. The 46-year old teacher, Neng Yang, admitted to using his computer to record, store, and transmit videos depicting the sexual abuse of a child under the age of 12. Yang was sentenced to spend 38 years in federal prison, and a fine of $250,000.

The fine was only a drop in the bucket, as the school district paid out a $2 million settlement to the victim’s family. This prosecution was the result of an investigation by the Central California Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, specifically the Clovis Police Department and the Fresno U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Wee Care Nursery School

In 1985, an investigation was launched into sexual abuse of the children at the Wee Care daycare in Maplewood, New Jersey. The investigation began after an examination of a 4-year old boy at his doctor’s office made the nurse suspicious of sexual abuse at the daycare. A 2-month investigation by police and social workers resulted in the conclusion that 23-year old daycare provider, Kelly Michaels, had sexually abused all 51 children in her care.

An 11-month trial saw Kelly convicted, after which she was sentenced to spend 47 years in prison. Kelly served 5 years in prison before an appeal succeeded in getting her conviction overturned. Kelly was then released on $75,000 bail, pending a second trial. Eventually, the prosecutor dropped the charges, and Kelly was not retried.

Child Exploitation Statistics

Although child exploitation statistics give a peek into the prevalence of the problem, investigators know that reported incidences are only the tip of the iceberg, as studies have been unable to get a true account of how many children worldwide have been exploited. This is because many cases are never reported, or even noticed. Because of this, many children suffer for long periods of time, facing harsh conditions, lack of food and clean water, dirty living conditions, lack of contact with their families, and physical and mental abuse.

It is estimated that:

  • 9 million cases of child abuse and exploitation are reported every year in the U.S.
  • 215 million children around the world engaged in child labor, with 115 million of these minors working in hazardous conditions
  • More than 80% of child abuse and exploitation perpetrators are between the ages of 18 and 44
  • 25% of people who exploit children are children themselves
  • Sexual exploitation and criminal exploitation are the most common reasons for child trafficking
  • 80% of 21-year-olds who were abused as children tested positive for at least one psychological disorder.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Appeal – A review of a case by a higher court for the purpose of obtaining a reversal of judgement.
  • Felony – A crime, often involving violence, regarded as more serious than a misdemeanor. Felony crimes are usually punishable by imprisonment more than one year.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Incest – The crime of sexual intercourse between two people who are too closely related to be permitted by law to marry.
  • Intent – A resolve to perform an act for a specific purpose; a resolution to use a particular means to a specific end.
  • Offense – A violation of law or rule, the committing of an illegal act.
  • Perpetrator – A person who commits an illegal or criminal act.
  • Rape – The crime of unlawful sexual intercourse, or sexual penetration, by force, or without consent.
  • Victim – A person who is injured, killed, or otherwise harmed as a result of a criminal act, accident, or other event.