Human trafficking represents an international human rights crisis, and awareness of the problem is growing. However, many parents in the United States may not have a strong understanding of the threat that human trafficking may represent to their own children. This practice may be seen as an issue only in certain parts of the world or in certain populations, but the reality is that men, women, and children in every country can become victims of human trafficking operations.
Private and government agencies who address the problem of human trafficking have a very difficult task, because no one has been able to compile any reliable statistics about the number of people involved in human trafficking schemes or the exact way all of these schemes operate. In addition, human trafficking is an “underground” issue. By its very nature, human trafficking operates in secret, and involves victims who are difficult to track or merely disappear.
What Is Human Trafficking?
The short answer is that human trafficking involves using force or the threat of force to transport and hold people against their will in order to exploit them for personal gain. Most victims of human trafficking are forced into some form of prostitution, but others may be required to perform labor, live as servants, or enter into marriage. Children are often pressed into begging, or even into warfare.
Many victims of human trafficking are kidnapped, either in their own countries or when traveling to other countries. Others are aspiring emigrants who are deceived by offers of safe passage to another country. Runaways and impoverished young women are also at great risk of being exploited in human trafficking schemes.
What Risk Does Human Trafficking Pose to American Children?
In the United States, young women and underage girls are believed to make up the majority of human trafficking victims, but any age group or gender can be at risk. Experts in human trafficking believe that abduction (both by strangers or relatives/acquaintances) may be used as a means of acquiring young children for human trafficking schemes, although it’s impossible to know how often this actually occurs. What may be a more common scenario is the sexual exploitation of underage runaways, both male and female, as well as at-risk young women. These populations may be coerced into prostitution in exchange for food and shelter. Older kids may also be lured into human trafficking schemes by Internet predators.
What Can Parents Do About Human Trafficking?
Parents of young children can teach them how to identify “bad strangers”, and stay aware of their surroundings at all times. Parents of older children should keep an eye on all of their kids’ social interaction, including their online activity, and know their kids’ whereabouts at all times. When traveling internationally with children, parents should spend some time researching how human trafficking schemes operate and share this information with their kids in an age-appropriate way. It’s also a good idea to register with the United States embassy or consulate in the family’s destination country.