Young people who have been victims of sexual abuse and who are living apart from their parents are more vulnerable to being lured into under-age prostitution, new research shows.

The study, released yesterday by anti-child pornography group Ecpat New Zealand, revealed that primary school children as young as 10 had been involved in commercial sexual activity in New Zealand.

Ecpat stands for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes.

Of a national survey of 195 known cases of underage commercial sexual activity (brought to the attention of counsellors and welfare agencies), 145 cases involved children under 16.

Ten per cent were 12 years old and under, 15 per cent were 13, 20 per cent were 14 and 30 per cent were 15.

Under the Prostitution Reform Act, which was introduced in June last year, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to be a prostitute.

A recent study of 303 sex workers in the Christchurch area identified 12 prostitutes under the age of 18.

But 31 per cent of the total said they became involved in prostitution when they were younger than 18.

Last week, a 14-year-old girl in the care of Child, Youth and Family was found working in a Wellington brothel.

Two women, a brothel owner and a receptionist, appeared in Wellington District Court yesterday charged with having underage girls provide sex for payment.

Ecpat was asked by the Government to study the commercial exploitation of children in New Zealand following the Second World Congress against Commercial Exploitation of Children in Yokohama in 2001.

A questionnaire distributed through massage parlours, escort agencies, private workers, street workers and former prostitutes focused on the first time payment was received for sex.

Of the 47 respondents, aged 15 to 47, only seven were living with both parents at the time they entered prostitution.

Two were living with their mother, one with an older sister and the rest were living with other relatives, friends or in foster homes.

Four were living on the street.

The average age when "consenting sex" began was 13.5 years old, but some were as young as nine.

One woman was uncertain whether she had ever agreed to have sex.

The man who said he had consenting sex with another boy at the age of nine had been abused from a very young age.

Overall, 59 per cent of respondents said they had been sexually abused, while the rate among Maori sex workers was 74 per cent.

Maori were over-represented generally in sex work, making up 40 per cent of respondents, which means they are twice as likely to be involved in prostitution as the general population.

The age at which people began to receive payment for sexual activity ranged from under 10 to 17 years, with the average being 14.5 years.

One respondent said she had been paid for sex while at primary school.

Her father had coached her to have sex for money from a very early age.

"Young people who have experienced a high rate of abuse and who lack the guidance and security of a stable home could be very susceptible to suggestion from other people," the report stated.

"The earlier trauma and disrupted psycho-social development of these young people would make them vulnerable when confronted with the social experience and predatory intentions of the sexual exploiter."

Over half described their first client as a businessman considerably older than themselves.

Most had tried to get out of prostitution at some point but many ran out of money.

Of the 13 respondents who managed to stop, four found other work, two went to prison, one found a boyfriend who was not a pimp and one became a Christian.

The report concluded that there was a need to provide better support and health care for young people in distressing home environments and for those who have been subjected to sexual violence.

"Enhancing family attachments may decrease early sexual behaviour and drug and alcohol abuse and allow healing to occur."

Underage prostitutes

Age breakdown of 195 New Zealand cases

Aged 16 and 17: 25 per cent

Aged 15: 30 per cent

Aged 14: 20 per cent

Aged 13: 15 per cent

Aged 12 and under: 10 per cent

Source: Ecpat survey

- NZPA