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Around the world, sexual exploitation of women and children is increasing, and experts say a prime cause is exploding cities, which are generating greater poverty and homelessness.

Every year, an estimated 2 million prostitutes between the ages of 5 and 15 enter the sex market, said Lisbet Palme, head of the Swedish committee for the U.N. Children's Fund. Palme is organizing a world congress on sexual exploitation of children in Stockholm in August."There are tens of millions of children in the sex market," she said Thursday night during a panel discussion held in conjunction with the U.N. conference on cities, known as Habitat II.

Sexual exploitation is not just a Third World phenomenon, according to the experts. Not only are there child prostitutes on the streets of New York, but Americans, Europeans and wealthy Arabs are major customers.

Brazil, with an estimated 500,000 child and adolescent prostitutes, is a major destination for tourists seeking sex, especially German and Dutch men, said Thais Corral of Brazil's Network in Defense of the Human Species.

Thursday's panel addressed the question: "What Sustains the Market for Female Bodies?"

Corral cited poverty associated with rapid urban growth and migration to cities, which has led to family disintegration, and male machismo.

Experts had predicted that as Asian countries became more developed, the problems of prostitution and child prostitution would decrease, she said. "Instead, it's increasing because, in fact, the growing wealth is feeding the prostitution."

Prativa Rana, a central committee member of Nepal's National Democratic Party, said many girls are forced into prostitution because of high unemployment - and poor parents sometimes sell their daughters.

"The trafficking in Nepal is rising every day. We have 300,000 women trafficked to India," she said. "Sometimes even police and local authorities are involved in this trafficking."

Palme, the widow of assassinated Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme, said: "One of the reasons that men tend to go to younger and younger girls is because they believe that the girls are not yet HIV-positive - but they are."

Almost all the Nepalese girls who return home from the brothels of Bombay have the AIDS virus, she said.