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Child Exploitation:  Role of Mental Health Professionals for its Prevention

The exploitation of children is currently a devastating social problem globally. It is estimated that one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually assaulted and it is difficult to determine the exact number because many cases are not reported to the authorities. Child exploitation is primarily the use of children for the benefit of another person, often resulting in child abuse. Such activities are detrimental to a child's physical or mental well-being. Figure 1 shows the impact of exploitation on a child’s life.  The scale of the problem is rarely discussed by professionals around the world. This problem is not only restricted to child sexual abuse only but it also include child labor, child trafficking, cyber threats.

The three major forms of child exploitation include Sexual exploitation, Economic exploitation and Criminal Exploitation. Child sexual exploitation occurs when people sexually exploit young people using their power which is due to differences in age, gender, intellect, strength, money, or other resources.  Similarly, the economic exploitation of child is an affront to mankind. A huge number of children work in perilous conditions that undermine their wellbeing, and security.


“An estimated 250 to 304 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are engaged in economic mobility.”


In addition, Criminal exploitation of children occurs when an individual forcibly takes advantage of a child. As a result, many children are involved in the drug trade, cell phone snatching, and so on.


Globally, about 1 in 10 children are involved in child labor, and an estimated 152 million children, including 64 million girls and 88 million boys, are involved in child labor (“Child labor and exploitation”, 2016).


Mental Health Professionals

There are different types of mental health specialists, specialize in different parts of mental health. Each one of these parts plays a key role in identifying and treating mental and emotional health issues. Figure 2 illustrates the types of mental health professionals.

Early negative events that occurred in children's lives affect their health and well-being. These adverse events lead to violence, and a state of mental health in the family, or to lifelong depression or trauma. This can lead to recurrent stress that can affect a child’s developing brain. The Ripple effects can be felt throughout life. There are now a number of mental health professionals available to help with this problem. They are promoting healthy human development through their clinical work and additionally by teaching and as well as by research.

Their professional skills include personality theory, psychological sciences, stages of human development as well as intervention and treatment. Clients of mental health professionals are more likely to meet clients who either have a history of childhood abuse, or have current suspicions or actual evidence of abuse. Childhood history is the root cause of many clients physical or sexual abuse, leading to the development of abuse and mistreatment. These harmful childhood bonds with main caretakers are based on a field of minimal undesirable effects. Abuse of children influences behavior improvement, associations and work activities and issues of constant adjustment in life, psychiatric disorders and also various personality disorders.


Important reasons for the mental health professionals to understand


Mental health professionals cover a variety of disciplines, including different professional orientations, educational and training programs, and clinical administration necessities for licensing and clinical practice. Psychologists and social workers have the most widespread focused training in child abuse. Moreover, other mental health professionals at the local level include psychiatric nurses, counselors etc.

Similarly, in the case of child exploitation Psychologists, and clinical community employees who intervene in the treatment of children, provide clinical assessments, psychotherapies, as well as sessions to Children’s Protective Service agencies, and also expert evidence in court. Moreover, the major differences between these professions are the scope of the assessment performed, the difficulty of the case requiring special training and expertise, the ability to prescribe medication, the guidance and skills to advertise psychological testing, and the preparation of trial and experienced research.

Mental health professionals use a similar approach to psychotherapy to shed light on personality development theories and clients perceptions of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional processes. The patterns and methods of these interventions form a basis in modern psychological, psychological, and cognitive theory and appropriately incorporate other theories.


Mental health experts may be engaged in primary and secondary prevention relying upon their inclinations and abilities. The primary prevention is to avoid a problem. Effective means of raising public awareness of public health and social concerns are broad public mindfulness, media campaigns, and school-based anticipation programs.

Secondary prevention is aimed at a particularly high-risk population. In addition, Tertiary Interventions, the main focus of training mental health professionals is the third intervention through the stipulation of therapeutic facilities to clients with a mental problem that affects their routine working and associations with others. The field of child exploitation involves working with both child victims and parents. Therapeutic interventions are aimed at preventing the harmful effects of child abuse. Therapeutic treatment with obnoxious parents are directed towards preventing this issue through education, develops analytical skills, provide cognitive and behavioral therapy to prevent violence, also help parents to identify when they are at risk and teach them how to support their children and provide resources to prevent exploitation.


Following are some feasible recommendations.

  •     Financial support (government funded service) for therapies, treatment should be provided for the children.

  •     Community based programs (counseling sessions) may spread awareness at street level.


Bakhtawar Pervaiz - Senior Contributor and Researcher at dR CLB Lab

Bakhtawar is an advocate for mental health, women empowerment and children's rights. She is a scholar and holds an M.Phil degree in Government and Public Policy from National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad and a Master’s degree in Computer Science from Islamia University of Bahawalpur

Bakhtawar has worked on many national security and policy issues. She contributes research articles on various contemporary national issues and has previously worked for the National Assembly of Pakistan and the Institute of Strategic Studies, Research & Analysis (ISSRA).

She devotes her time to helping women to improve entrepreneurial skills in rural areas and participate in many other social causes in Pakistan. Her major areas of interest include Public policy, Cyber governance, Cyber security, Defence policy, National and International Security and Water Crisis. 

She is also a researcher at The Global Foundation of Cyber Studies and Research Think Tank

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