What You Need to Know About Child Trafficking

According to the US State Department, there are more than 24 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. 

And the most frightening part? Human trafficking happens every day, everywhere.

Although you don’t see child trafficking happening around you, it’s a threat that’s always there. And it leaves an indelible mark on its victims in the form of mental and physical trauma – even if they manage to escape.

But what constitutes child trafficking? How does it happen? And what can we do to stop child trafficking organizations?

What is Child Trafficking?

Victims of child trafficking are children or adolescents who are recruited, harbored, provided, transported, or obtained. Then, they are exploited for commercial sex acts or forced labor. 

Although the victims of child trafficking are often transported away from their homes, human trafficking is not solely defined by movement – individuals can be enslaved and exploited right in their hometowns. The way human traffickers enslave these individuals can be by force, coercion, or fraud. 

Put simply; human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery.

The Types of Child Trafficking

There are many forms of child trafficking. They include (but are not limited to) forced child labor, warfare (child soldiers), involuntary domestic servitude, forced marriage, solicitation, exploitation for the sex trade, and other illegal activities. 

Forced labor and sexual exploitation are the most pervasive forms of human trafficking, and more than 50 percent of victims are female. The many other forms of exploitation (such as organ removal) tend to be highly underreported.  

The Causes of Child Trafficking

While poverty alone doesn’t necessarily make specific segments of the population more at risk of child trafficking, it does play a role. Poverty combined with other economic, political, and social factors makes some children more vulnerable. 

The exacerbating factors that contribute to child trafficking include civil unrest, corruption, lack of education, lax government policies, low access to the job market, family dysfunction and disruption, and inadequate human rights. 

Child Trafficking is Everywhere

Believe it or not, every continent on the globe has been involved in human trafficking, which makes it both a global and domestic crime. 

In 2018, UNODC’s global human trafficking report detected 50,000 human trafficking victims in 148 countries. The victims of human trafficking can be trafficked within their own borders or moved across states, countries, and continents. 

In America, human trafficking is the most prevalent in Florida, California, Texas, and New York.

Although one in three victims of human trafficking are children, victims can be of any gender or age. Children are often targeted and forced to solicit money, participate in child pornography, or exploited for labor. 

Because children have smaller hands, they are used for tasks like untangling fishing wire or sewing in forced labor situations.

Child Trafficking is Lucrative

Globally, human trafficking is the second-largest organized crime industry. It’s as lucrative as trafficking illicit drugs and illegal arms, and it’s the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that the forced labor industry is worth $150 billion in profits every year – sexual exploitation accounts for two-thirds of that amount, while forced economic exploitation (like domestic or agricultural work) and child labor account for the rest.

What Are the Signs of Child Trafficking?

Identifying the victims of child trafficking is not always straightforward. 

Not all victims have been kidnapped, transported, and locked away. Some victims attend school but may be absent frequently, and some victims don’t feel that they are victims at all. 

Many victims of child trafficking have been conditioned to believe that their previous situation was worse than being enslaved and exploited for labor or sex. Many have come from poverty and other unfortunate circumstances. 

The victims of child trafficking have often been marginalized, and they distrust authority figures, or the shame they feel is so powerful that it prevents them from reaching out for help.  

The victims of child trafficking are typically controlled and conditioned by the trafficker through isolation, starvation, torture, threats, abuse, forced drug use, and more. 

The Red Flags

While it may not be apparent that a child has been trafficked, there are some red flags you can watch out for. 

Some signs are tattoos, scars, burns, branding, or any other signs of physical abuse on the victim’s body, as well as access to resources that seem beyond their means. These could be frequent hair or nail appointments, unexplainably large amounts of cash, new clothes, or jewelry. 

Trafficked children usually spend most of their time doing household chores and rarely leave the house, may not be sure which state or country they are in, and may be orphaned or separated from their families.

Other signs to watch out for are the possession of hotel room keys, fake identification certificates, and frequent school absences. 

How Can We Stop Child Trafficking?

The United States government’s policy on human trafficking focuses on the three P’s: preventing trafficking, protecting the victims, and prosecuting the traffickers. Although the number of traffickers getting convictions is improving, there is not enough awareness about the scope and magnitude of the growing problem. There are three main reasons for this.

Problems that arise regarding child trafficking are mainly due to the lack of anti-trafficking legislation in some countries. However, having sound anti-trafficking legislation does not mean that prosecutors and law enforcement know how to enforce it. 

Even if the legislation is in place and officials know how to use it, the victims of child trafficking are often unwilling to cooperate with law enforcement due to threats from the trafficker or a general distrust for authority figures.

What Can You Do to Help?

To help fight against child trafficking, you should educate yourself and raise as much awareness about the issue as possible. 

National and local organizations strive to raise awareness and offer support for the victims of trafficking – support them by volunteering your time, advocating for them, or making monetary and non-monetary donations.

If you know someone you think is a victim of child trafficking, reach out by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-788 to report suspected human trafficking or get more help. 

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