Child trafficking is a crime – and represents the tragic end of childhood
Child trafficking refers to the exploitation of girls and boys, primarily for forced labor and sexual exploitation. Children account for 27% of all the human trafficking victims worldwide, and two out of every three child victims are girls[i].
Sometimes sold by a family member or an acquaintance, sometimes lured by false promises of education and a "better" life — the reality is that these trafficked and exploited children are held in slave-like conditions without enough food, shelter or clothing, and are often severely abused and cut off from all contact with their families.
Children are often trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation or for labor, such as domestic servitude, agricultural work, factory work and mining, or they’re forced to fight in conflicts. The most vulnerable children, particularly refugees and migrants, are often preyed upon and their hopes for an education, a better job or a better life in a new country.[ii]
Every country in the world is affected by human trafficking, and as a result, children are forced to drop out of school, risk their lives and are deprived of what every child deserves – a future.
Child Trafficking: Myth vs. Fact
Child trafficking affects every country in the world, including the United States. Children make up 27% of all human trafficking victims worldwide, and two out of every three identified child victims are girls[i].
Trafficking, according to the United Nations, involves three main elements[ii]:
- The act: Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons.
- The means: Threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim.
- The purpose: For the purpose of exploitation, which includes exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs.
There is much misinformation about what trafficking is, who is affected and what it means for a child to be trafficked. Read on to learn more about the myths vs. facts of child trafficking.
MYTH: Traffickers target victims they don’t know
FACT: A majority of the time, victims are trafficked by someone they know, such as a friend, family member or romantic partner.
MYTH: Only girls and women are victims of human trafficking
FACT: Boys and men are just as likely to be victims of human trafficking as girls and women. However, they are less likely to be identified and reported. Girls and boys are often subject to different types of trafficking, for instance, girls may be trafficked for forced marriage and sexual exploitation, while boys may be trafficked for forced labor or recruitment into armed groups.
MYTH: All human trafficking involves sex or prostitution
FACT: Human trafficking can include forced labor, domestic servitude, organ trafficking, debt bondage, recruitment of children as child soldiers, and/or sex trafficking and forced prostitution.
MYTH: Trafficking involves traveling, transporting or moving a person across borders
FACT: Human trafficking is not the same thing as smuggling, which are two terms that are commonly confused. Trafficking does not require movement across borders. In fact, in some cases, a child could be trafficked and exploited from their own home. In the U.S., trafficking most frequently occurs at hotels, motels, truck stops and online.
MYTH: People being trafficked are physically unable to leave or held against their will
FACT: Trafficking can involve force, but people can also be trafficked through threats, coercion, or deception. People in trafficking situations can be controlled through drug addiction, violent relationships, manipulation, lack of financial independence, or isolation from family or friends, in addition to physical restraint or harm.
MYTH: Trafficking primarily occurs in developing countries
FACT: Trafficking occurs all over the world, though the most common forms of trafficking can differ by country. The United States is one of the most active sex trafficking countries in the world, where exploitation of trafficking victims occurs in cities, suburban and rural areas. Labor trafficking occurs in the U.S., but at lower rates than most developing countries.
How Girls Are Affected By Trafficking
Tragically, both girls and boys are vulnerable to child trafficking. However, girls are disproportionally targeted and must deal with the life-long effects of gender inequality and gender-based violence.
Often, girls around the world are forced to drop out of school or denied access to income-generating opportunities. This resulting social exclusion can trap girls in a cycle of extreme poverty, as well as increased vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation.
- Girls are 2x likelier to be reported as trafficking victims
- Girls tend to be trafficked for forced marriages and sexual slavery
- 120 million girls worldwide experience sexual exploitation
Child Trafficking in Conflict Zones
Because child trafficking is often linked with lucrative criminal activity and corruption, it is hard to estimate how many children suffer, but trafficking and exploitation is an increasing risk as more children around the world live in conflict.
Globally, 426 million children live in conflict zones today. That’s nearly one-fifth of the world’s children. Living amidst conflict increases children’s exposure to grave human rights violations, which include child trafficking and gender-based violence.
Frequently Asked Questions About Child Trafficking
Child trafficking is a type of human trafficking. According to the United Nations, trafficking involves three main elements[iv]:
- The act - Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons.
- The means - Threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim.
- The purpose - For the purpose of exploitation, which includes exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs.
Yes, children are targeted for trafficking in the U.S. and are trafficked into the country from around the world. Often, children are trafficked from developing to developed countries. Victims are trafficked under various circumstances, including prostitution, online sexual exploitation, the illegal drug trade and forced labor.
In the U.S., 60% of child sex trafficking victims have a history in the child welfare system[iv]. Foster children in particular are vulnerable to being victimized by child trafficking[iiv]. Children in the foster care system often live in of the poorest communities in America, where Save the Children works to break the cycle of poverty and ensure that every child gets a healthy start, a quality education, and is protected.Back to Top
An estimated 1.2 million children are affected by trafficking at any given time[iiv]. Around the world, most children who are victims of trafficking involved in forced labor.
- 168 million children are victims of forced labor[iv]
- 215 million children are engaged in child labor [iii]
- 115 million of those children are involved in hazardous work [iii]
Trafficking and smuggling are terms that are commonly mixed up or considered synonymous. They both involved transporting another individual, but there are some critical differences.
Smuggling involves the illegal entry of a person into a state where he or she is not a resident.
There are three key differences between trafficking and smuggling[iv]:
- Consent – Individuals involved have consented to the smuggling. Trafficking victims either have not consented or have been coerced into consent.
- Exploitation – When the smuggled individual arrives at their destination, the smuggling ends. Trafficking is the continuous exploitation of a victim to generate profit for the traffickers.
- Transnationality – A person who is smuggled is always brought from one state to another. Trafficking can occur either within or between states.
Save the Children works to combat child trafficking through prevention, protection, and prosecution. In order to maximize our efforts, we work with communities, local organizations and civil society, and national governments to protect children from being exploited – and to help restore the dignity of children who have survived.
Save the Children takes a holistic approach to tackle the root causes of child trafficking and involves children in the design and implementation of solutions.
Working alongside communities and local and national governments Save the Children supports:
- Preventing trafficking at the community level by creating awareness of the risks of migration
- Providing support to children who have been trafficked and help them return home and reintegrate into their communities
- Improving law enforcement and instigate legal reform to protect survivors of trafficking.
By supporting livelihoods, we help families avoid the need for their children to work. By raising awareness of trafficking, we reduce the number of children being trafficked. By helping rehabilitate survivors, we empower them to rebuild their lives. By protecting unaccompanied refugee children, we keep them from the clutches of traffickers.
We Launch Anti-Trafficking Advocacy Campaigns
With all the excitement that led up to the South Africa World Cup 2010, it is easy to forget that such a major sporting event can lead to child trafficking and unsafe child migration. To help protect children during this time, and raise community awareness of the dangers, Save the Children in Mozambique launched an advocacy campaign called "Open Your Eyes" with radio and television programs, interviews, posters and postcards that reached 250,000 people
The former national team captain, Tico-Tico, even volunteered his own time to appear in several advertisements highlighting the problem of child trafficking. Even after the World Cup was over, this advocacy worked to help protect vulnerable children from exploitation
We Support Public Policy and Training
One reason trafficking and exploitation of children flourish is because of inadequate laws and policies against it. In El Salvador, Save the Children focused on Mejicanos, one of the most frequent areas for trafficking of children, and supported the municipal council in drafting the first-ever ordinance to prevent child trafficking, and monitor its implementation.
Save the Children also conducts awareness training in schools, so children can learn how to keep safe, as well as how and where to report any suspicious activity. Now the majority of Mejicanos are working with Save the Children to share this experience and replicate its success throughout El Salvador.
We Use Research in Creative Ways to Protect Children from Child Trafficking
“Positive deviance” – an innovative approach pioneered by Save the Children and well-documented in improving children’s health and nutrition, is also being used to fight child trafficking. Save the Children used this approach in two child protection programs — one to prevent trafficking in girls for commercial sex work in Indonesia, and the other to reintegrate girls who were abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and girl mothers into their communities in Uganda.
In 2013, the United Nations passed a resolution designating July 30 as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons to raise awareness about the growing issue of human trafficking and the protection of victims and their rights.Back to Top
The Childhelp® National Child Abuse Hotline – Professional crisis counselors will connect you with a local number to report abuse. Call: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) – Aimed at preventing child abduction and exploitation, locating missing children, and assisting victims of child abduction and sexual exploitation. Call: 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678)
National Human Trafficking Resource Center – A 24-hour hotline open all day, every day, which helps identify, protect, and serve victims of trafficking. Call: 1-800-373-7888.
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[i] Give Her a Choice: Building A Better Future For Girls (Save the Children)
[ii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Child Victims of Human Trafficking: Fact Sheet
[iii] The Many Faces of Exclusion: 2018 End of Childhood Report
[iv] United Nations Office on Drug and Crime
[v] United Nations: World Day Against Human Trafficking
[iv] National Foster Youth Institute
[vii] Child Trafficking Essentials
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