The sexual exploitation of children by means of prostitution is an old and growing problem in much of the world. In many countries, prostitution is part of the history and culture, existing for hundreds of years. In Asia alone, according to experts on the subject, more than one million young boys and girls are engaged in commercial sexual activity. And indications are that in every part of the world the number of children being harmed in this way is expanding. Karin Landgren, Chief of Child Protection for UNICEF, says child trafficking is a very profitable buisness.

You are absolutely right to identify child trafficking especially the sexual exploitation of children as a growing problem. Because it is usually illegal and unusually covert it's very very difficult to get numbers on this issues. There is an estimate that globally 1 point 2 million children are trafficked every year. They are trafficked for many reasons. Not only for sexual exploitation but other forms of child labor as well including agriculture and domestic work as well as serving in military forces. (Armed conflicts). It's an extremely profitable industry for those who control it. The International Labor Organization estimates that trafficking worldwide of children generates about 12 billion dollars annually.

The problem of exploited children became even more urgent with the recent Tsunami disaster in southern Asia. UNICEF's Karen Landgren explains.

In Asia several countries have long been identified with concerns about trafficking. Some of those countries are the very countries that have now been affected by the Tsunami including Thailand, Indonesia and as far as sexual exploitation is concerned also Sri-Lanka. Now we know from long experiences working in conflict situations, that whenever things are so disruptive and so chaotic and people don't neseccessarily have a handle in where their children are, the risks increase.

That's why there has been such a focus on trying to trace and register and reunite children with their families as quickly as possible. That is also why some governments have already spoken out on the importance of keeping children in country, and close to their families at this point. If children are moved out of the immediate area they become that much harder to track and eventually to reunite with their families.

Ms. Landgren says measures are being taken to protect children orphaned by the Tsunami, from sexual predators.

In situations where thousands of aid workers pour in both national and international and a lot of money also pouring in, you create both very unequal power relationships between have and have-nots. You create a group of people who can basically buy what they want. Sometimes unfortunately that demand is for sex,sometimes it is for sex with children tragically.( We've seen this in a number of situations).Sometimes there are well meaning but misguided efforts to help children by adopting and taking them away.

We are seeing a very high level of responsiveness and vigilance in the part of the governments of the affected countries to try to prevent this happening. I was told for example that the Deputy Police Commissioner in Thailand has issued an alert to immigration authorities all over the country with regard to children leaving. Children are for the moment not allowed to leave without their relative. Also from Ache children under 16 are not allowed to leave unless accompanied by a gurdian. These are exactly the sort of preventive measures that we regard as important at this point.

UNICEF's Karen Landgren notes that child prostitutes are found in virtually every country, including the United States, France, United Kingdom, Gemany and Japan. She says there is an apparent increasing demand globally, that is partly fed by the fear of AIDS and the erroneous belief that younger sex partners are free of the disease.