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The Silent Epidemic–Child Trafficking

Human trafficking-what will you do

The Washington Post reported this morning that a woman in New York is accused of taking two South Korean children into her home and using them as slave labor for the last six years.

A brother and sister, ages 14 and 16, were forced to do housework for 10 hours each day after school. They also had to work long hours at Queens supermarkets and give the woman their pay. They were routinely beaten.

This sad scenario is not an exception.  Trafficking of children and teens for labor and sex occurs more frequently than we’d like to think.  And it’s getting worse, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

“Children now comprise nearly one third of all detected trafficking victims.”

United Nations 2014 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons

Most assume trafficking happens outside the U.S.  Not true.  Human trafficking cases have been reported in every state, all U.S. territories, and Washington, D.C.

There could be trafficked children in your own neighborhood or school.  It’s incumbent on all of us to know how to identify child victims of trafficking and report it to police.

Human trafficking-#2 crime

The U.S. Department of Education published a guideline for school administrators and teachers to help them recognize trafficked children. You don’t have to be a teacher, though, to recognize the signs:

  • Demonstrates an inability to attend school on a regular basis and/or has unexplained absences
  • Frequently runs away from home
  • Makes references to frequent travel to other cities
  • Exhibits bruises or other signs of physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, depression, anxiety, or fear
  • Lacks control over his or her schedule and/or identification or travel documents
  • Is hungry, malnourished, deprived of sleep, or inappropriately dressed (based on weather conditions or surroundings)
  • Shows signs of drug addiction
  • Has coached/rehearsed responses to questions

Additional signs that may indicate sex trafficking include:

  • Demonstrates a sudden change in attire, personal hygiene, relationships, or material possessions
  • Acts uncharacteristically promiscuous and/or makes references to sexual situations or terminology that are beyond age-specific norms
  • Has a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” who is noticeably older
  • Attempts to conceal recent scars

Additional signs that may indicate labor trafficking include:

  • Expresses need to pay off a debt
  • Expresses concern for family members’ safety if he or she shares too much information
  • Works long hours and receives little or no payment
  • Cares for children not from his or her own family

If you suspect a child is a trafficking victim, call your local police immediately.

“We can no longer stand by while this activity scales up every year and millions more children are robbed of childhood and broken, sometimes forever.”

Harry Leibowitz, co-founder, World of Children Award.


Additional resources:

National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST, or report incidents at http://www.cybertipline.org.

Photos courtesy of SharedHope.Org and the NEMAC foundation.

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