What Is the Link Between Human Trafficking and Children?
I'm sure most of you have seen the phrase "human trafficking" a lot in the news over the past two decades are so. You've seen the contexts it has been used in by the media, such as the human trafficking of about ten individuals a few years ago from Libya to the southern coast of Italy or the sex trafficking of women and girls from Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe to the United States. However, have you ever thought of what the definition of "human trafficking" is? The general definition of human trafficking is the transportation of individuals to be used for some sort of purpose in a different country and/or region. The reasons behind the purpose of why these individuals are being transported varies significantly. The most common reasons are related to economics and the International Labor Organization currently identifies it as an economic issue. Any individual can be trafficked: men, women, children, the elderly you name it. Sometimes the individuals are taken against their will, while others made the choice to go, whether they know for sure what awaits them once they arrive at their destination or not.
One of the most serious versions of human trafficking known to the international community is that of children. It is important to stress the fact that human trafficking is a human rights violation whether or not the individual taken was a man, child, woman or elderly person. However, one thing the international community has noticed is that children are often very vulnerable to traffickers. This article will explore why children are so vulnerable to human traffickers, what happens to children who are trafficked, and what can be done about this issue.
Child Trafficking: Victims Enslaved and Imprisoned by Captors
Why Children Are Often the Victims of Traffickers?
Children are considered to be among the most vulnerable members of human social structure. Maybe it's because children are not considered legal participants in the countries they live in; another thought could be because they are the wards and/or responsibilities of their parents and/or legal guardian. In regards to size, children are much smaller and tend to have less strength than most adults. Intellectually and psychologically, children are stereo-typically perceived as innocent, naïve, gullible, and sometimes, as downright stupid. Whatever the reason (s) why children are labeled as most "vulnerable" to any human rights violation, for the purposes of this article in regards to child trafficking, it happens frequently.
What Happens to Children Who Are Trafficked?
Children are trafficked for a variety of reasons. Most of the reasons are economic in nature, but one thing they have in common, is that the child is being exploited for another person's gain. Even though the reasons are economic, the children are exploited for illegal purposes. For example, children are often trafficked as sex slaves and/or prostitutes. Often, young girls under the age of 18, are "recruited" by an individual involved in the sex trade, under the guise as someone who can help the child find family members, or get work in a foreign country. Instead, what happens is that once the girl arrives to said foreign country, like the United States, she is forced to work as a sex slave/prostitute. All of the money the girl earns goes to the members of the illicit organization that has enslaved her. If she doesn't meet certain quotas regarding how many men she is expected to sleep with, she is beaten and kept constantly intoxicated through forcible use of narcotics. Even though girls are often targeted, sometimes young women, even boys will end up shanghaied and enslaved by traffickers for the sex trade.
Another applicable situation where children are often trafficked is to be used as economic slaves for non-sexual purposes. A perfect example of this are the children who are used for the diamond trade and agricultural production. There are examples of children being trafficked during conflict to become soldiers, such as the conflicts in Uganda and Liberia. There are also cases where children are trafficked in irregular migration cases, either as refugees or potential migrants. For whatever reason, children who are trafficked as refugees or potential migrants, even if they could legally claim asylum, often place their trust in individuals who take careless precautions. Therefore, this puts the lives of the children in danger, whether it's a threat to their mortality, they end up being treated as criminals and do not receive proper asylum status, or they end up as the worst kind of migrant: an illegal working in the fields as a slave.
Can Anything Be Done About Child/Human Trafficking?
The international community is certainly under the conviction it can stop child trafficking, in particular, human trafficking in general. However, the international community also feels that it is its rightful duty to combat against child/human trafficking. The reason why the international community feels it is its duty is because child/human trafficking deals with illegal activity. Slavery is considered an illegal practice by most UN-member states. The children trafficked are often under the legal working age for the countries they are trafficked from, and trafficked to. Furthermore, the use of children, or in most cases, any individual for that matter, as a sex slave or prostitute is completely forbidden. Children who are trafficked for any reason are often kidnapped, physically abused and forced to use illegal drugs, which are illicit practices in most UN-member states. There are also cases where children are forced to sell illegal drugs, once again, they have been forced to participate in illicit activities that go against the states they are in. Let us also not forget the complicated legal citizenship status of many of these children who end up trafficked. Many children are trafficked illegally, some don't even have the proper documentation to prove their citizenship of origin!
Therefore, the legal, economic, political and human rights implications related to child/human trafficking are tremendous and extremely significant. However, resolving this issue isn't so easy, primarily because it is a legal, economic, political and human rights issue from a local, national, bilateral, and multilateral perspective! Furthermore, it is hard to catch the culprits because many victims of child/human trafficking are too afraid to speak about their captors. This is because they live in constant fear of being found, and being killed for escaping enslavement. Additionally, their captors threaten to kill their families and friends, in addition to them if the victim flees, doesn't cooperate, or rats on them to authorities. There is also the undeniable fact that there are so many cases, and various forms of child trafficking/human trafficking, that involve so many various actors and non-state actors, and the various singular political, social, martial, legal, and/or economic issues that persist affected the various citizens from the member-states involved in human trafficking!
So, how can the international community do anything about human trafficking? True, the answer is not so simple to this issue. However, a good place to start, is to focus on specific cases and target singular issues related to child trafficking and human trafficking in general. This can be done through specific, targeted, legal efforts from the United Nations, the International Labor Organization, and the national governments of each UN-member state involved. Furthermore, NGOs and other non-profits who specialize in specific child trafficking/human trafficking issues can provide some of the humanitarian aid, services, programs and targeted campaigns that actors at the grassroots, local, state, academic and international levels need to hear to better assist child trafficking victims, however provide the assistance many of these victims need. Most importantly, non-state actors at the grassroots level need to be informed about various forms of child trafficking so that they can help push other actors within the international community, in particular, non-state actors in NGOs and state actors at the local, state and international levels to assist victims of child trafficking in a meaningful, effective way.
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Danielle Swisher (author) from Florida on October 30, 2014:
Thank you so much, mdscoggins! I am excited to hear about your book and I feel it's a very honorable project indeed! Projects like yours I feel can help to bring awareness, but also help to bridge the gap of knowledge between the grassroots level, academic level, and policy level.
I do agree with your statement as to why human trafficking persists, however political scientists are realizing more and more that poverty seems to be the cause of most social ills as it is. This is because, well, impoverished people have to struggle to survive, and so they will go to desperate measures just to do so. Yes, the value placed on women, especially when you are talking about young girls is a persistent factor, especially if you are referring to girls, and let's not forget the women who are trafficked for the sex industry. In regards to your question as to whether or not the statistical information points to an increased demand for young virgin girls is hard to say. The reason why is because the statistical data that exists on this subject is very limited, but furthermore tends to not be 100% accurate and/or reliable. Unfortunately, this is true of most statistical data that exists about children and/or women's rights issues. However, from an anthropological standpoint, a girl's virginity is still prized in many parts of the world, and considering the age that most girls are taken into the illicit sex trade, yes there is a stronger chance they will be virgins. I also remember watching a documentary about sex trafficking where most of the young women, who had been shanghaied as young girls, admitted that they were virgins at the time they were taken in their interviews. However, one thing we know for sure is that there are people out there who have sexual fetishes for young boys and girls, which seems to drive their "demand" and "supply" in the illicit sex industry. I agree about your statement that so many people haven't heard of human trafficking-primarily at the grassroots level. Now, if you're talking about a trained political scientist like myself, oh yeah, of course I know about it, and so do my colleagues. Human trafficking is a common security threat to UN member-states and is a common issue discussed in UN debates. Unfortunately, this is a complex issue without a simple answer, however I would say part of the problem is the fact that people at the grassroots level (i.e. someone who isn't a politician and/or an academic professor in the social sciences) aren't aware of it. Why, who knows? I personally feel it's the fault of the media focusing on other matters that they feel are more newsworthy and also of state-actors, just failing to communicate about policies and the political debate of issues like human trafficking beyond the policy/state level.
Yes, you are right that girls are often used as a source of income when poverty is a concern, however there are cases where boys are at risk too. Take, for example, a common practice among the poor in India is for parents to mutilate their children just so they can get more money as beggars. Girls and boys are not discriminated, and in fact, I have heard more about boys in these cases than girls. However, boys are more likely to be sent to school, get a job and keep it than girls. This is because boys are expected to grow up into men, get married, have a job and bring money home to his family to provide for them. In contrast, a girl is expected to help out the family in the fields and/or with money issues if there aren't that many boys in the family at least until she gets married; once married, her duty is to stay home, bear children and make her husband "happy."
True, it is ironic how so many of the young trafficked women who end up in sex trafficking (but let us also not forget the economic migrants who end up working as slaves in the fields here in the US-not all migrants get paying jobs unfortunately when they come here) come to the US and yet the US has such strict immigration laws. From my understanding, the US government is more aware of it, as well as law enforcement in various regions of the US where sex trafficking is common. Therefore, I understand that apparently the US has created some laws to take this into consideration, which is helping. I know law enforcement are doing their job, with the help of non-profits to help crack down sex trafficking perpetrators and put them to justice. However, it's not enough and it's really a start. I personally don't think the United States realizes the magnitude of this issue really, and/or is really sure how to resolve it, but that's just my personal opinion. However, like I wrote in this article, this is an extremely, complicated issue that really is more of an international rather than domestic US issue. It is also important to remember that this impacts children and women often times, which as I've mentioned in previous articles, tends to fall within soft power issues rather than hard power issues when you're talking about the state, which normally aren't that important. However, as I mentioned in this article, the legal issues behind it are staggering, therefore in order to keep the rule of law in tact, yeah something needs to be done about human trafficking. Thank you so much for your comment, for reading and for voting!
Michelle Scoggins from Fresno, CA on October 29, 2014:
Great article Danielle. I am very interested in human trafficking, so much that I am writing a fictional book about this topic with the hopes of providing awareness. It is astounding how many people have never heard of this type of illegal activity.
I believe that this activity continues due to a systemic issue that includes poverty, punishment for sex crimes, and the value placed on women. Now that individuals can go to prison for child molestation I wonder if the statistical information reflects an increase in demand for young virgin girls. Also, as you mentioned many families use their female children as a valuable source of income when extreme poverty is a concern. I really like how you mentioned the irony of strict immigration rules and laws in the US, however many of the young girls that are enslaved were brought from outside of this continent. So I wonder how that aspect plays into the system of the problem. Thanks again for the deep thought out article. Voted up and shared.