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Broken Families - Pushing Children Towards Sexual Exploitation?

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

The term “broken family” can be defined as a family in which one parent is absent, usually due to divorce or desertion. Research shows that broken families can be a significant push factor towards incest, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. Sadly, Homes of Hope can verify that through our stories.

Sixteen-year-old Moli* lives with her grandparents and four younger siblings in a squatter settlement. Her parents are separated. She was often absent from school and spent her weekends hanging around with her cousins who are sex workers. Influenced by her cousins and friends, she was subjected to the worst form of child labour – sex trafficking. Her cousins arranged and pimped her to men and took the payments. Moli only received food, makeup and clothes for work.

Children will always seek to be loved and cared for; to belong. If parents do not provide this, children will search for this need to be filled elsewhere.

Twelve-year-old Devi* was sexually abused at a very young age. (Note: 90% of a child’s brain development happens before the age of 5.) Her family neglected her, and she moved from house to house for shelter. She left school when she was in Grade 6 and was introduced to sex work by her peers. She was pimped by family friends and moved in with one of her best friends who was also a young sex worker. Devi works mostly at night standing on the streets.

Sexual abuse tears down trust, adds layers of shame and self-hatred, and desensitizes a child to the sacredness of sex between a husband and a wife. Numerous studies have found that children who do not live with both biological parents, irrespective of socioeconomic status, are far more likely to be sexually abused than their peers in intact families. (Sammut, 2014, p. 1)

Girls living in non-traditional families are found to have been sexually abused by their stepfathers, at many times the rate girls are sexually abused by their natural fathers in intact families. The 2010 US Fourth National Incidence Study of Abuse and Neglect found that compared to peers living with biological parents who are married:
· Children who lived with a single parent who had no cohabiting partner were five times more likely to be sexually abused
· Children who lived with a step-family (one biological and one non-biological parent who are married) were eight to nine times more likely to be sexually abused
· Children who lived with a single parent with a partner in the home were 20 times more likely to be sexually abused.
In this study, the over-representation of ‘broken’ families implies that if all children in the United States lived with both biological parents who are married, the rate of child sexual abuse could be halved at least. (Sammut, 2014, p. 1)

Maria* was 14-years-old when Homes of Hope met her in a squatter’s settlement with 20 other children of similar age and situation. They all ran away from home from outside of Suva (Fiji’s capital) because their step-parents chased them from home. All the children were living together in a tin shack being pimped out by the neighborhood boys in exchange for food, shelter and belonging. They were trying to fill a void that the absence of family life created. They wanted to belong. Desperately. They wanted a family – at any cost. They became each other’s family – at great cost.

I am not implying that all stepfathers and boyfriends are abusers. There are countless stepfathers who step into the role of dad with love and care. We just know that it increases the odds of abuse, which is why it is so important to create healthy, lasting marriages.

Homes of Hope has specifically designed toolkits to help build strong, resilient and enduring families. Please consider volunteering with or giving towards our community team so that we can reach more families.

Lastly, I pray that we are all more determined to keep our marriages together and healthy. So much is at stake: so many lives; so many futures. May I challenge each of us to cherish and fight for the sacredness and power of marriage.

(*Names have been changed.)


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