UN Panel Discusses Child Trafficking Across the Globe
I had the great privilege last week of participating in a panel discussion at the United Nations, entitled “Children on the Move.” This important and informative panel was organized by Father Tom Brennan of the Salesians of Don Bosco and U.N. Ambassadors Kornelius S. Korneliou of Cyprus and Jorge Skinner-Klee of Guatemala.
Although the main focus of the panel was international child trafficking, particularly in refugee and immigration contexts, I explained that the trafficking of children and young adults for sex is prevalent right here in the United States. I talked about how pimps and traffickers target homeless youth, who have no family to look for them once they go missing. I cited recent studies conducted by Covenant House, Loyola University (New Orleans) Modern Slavery Research Project, and the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research of the University of Pennsylvania in which, of more than 900 homeless youth interviewed, some 19% had experiences that fit the U.S. federal definition of human trafficking.
There are many similarities between the homeless youth in the U.S. I discussed and the child trafficking victims abroad addressed by the other panelists. In particular, when it comes to the root causes of human trafficking, the similarities were striking. Poverty, an absence of family support, homelessness, and a lack of education and vocational skills are all risk factors for human trafficking, no matter where in the world someone lives. We also agreed that the best way to fight human trafficking is through education, job training, pathways to legal immigration, and shelters/homes filled with adults who care about children and youth.
There are differences, too, between trafficking in the U.S. and abroad, and I described how many U.S.-based victims are not locked up or bound in chains on cargo ships or in cages. Rather, victims here are often bound by a need for food and shelter. They may be bound psychologically to their traffickers by traumatic bonds the traffickers create, alternating between extreme violence and the affection homeless youth so desperately crave. One adult survivor told me, for example, that her pimp was the first person who ever gave her a hug. These young people often don't even realize they are being trafficked until the violence gets too much for them to bear.
While the discussion was often emotional and sad, the U.N. panelists also offered stories of hope. I was excited to share how two of our young survivors at Covenant House New York graduated recently from a certified nursing-assistant training program, and that one of them now dreams of going to college to pursue an RN degree.
It was an honor to be in such distinguished company and to see all the amazing work that is being done around the world to fight the tragedy of human trafficking.
This blog was prepared by Jayne Bigelsen, Covenant House Director of Anti-Trafficking Initiatives.