Child Trafficking in the U.S.

Article by Maya D

The United States holds a unique position when it comes to child trafficking. It is not a developing country and currently does not have any territorial conflicts, both of which are major risk factors for child trafficking because children are less likely to have a guardian present and have more of an incentive to fall victim to trafficking. Consequently, the US should not have an issue with trafficking. However, the reality is quite the opposite. The United States is a child trafficking epicenter and a hotspot for both the transportation and consumption of this illegal activity. The US federal law defines human trafficking as “the unlawful act of transporting or coercing people in order to benefit from their work or service, typically in the form of forced labor or sexual exploitation” (US Education Department). In fact, according to Erase Child Trafficking, a child is trafficked in the United States every 2 minutes. There are two main types of child trafficking within the United States.

Sex Trafficking (or sexual servitude): the trafficking of children in order to force them into prostitution, stripping, or other forms of sex work. Children in this position are often not at a consenting age (16) and may be forced to have sex up to 20 times a day, 6 days a week for little to no pay.

Labor Trafficking (or forced labor): the trafficking of children to used them as a labor force. This covers a variety of work, but can include anything from physical labor, such as working as a part of a construction crew, to domestic servitude, such as being a nanny. Children are forced to do this work for little to no pay and in unsafe conditions. 

The United States, serving as both a transportation hub and a main consumption point for child trafficking, plays an integral role in this illegal activity. Child trafficking is a $39 billion-dollar international industry, as well as one of the criminal industries that is constantly increasing. When a child is trafficked in the United States, it is likely that they will not be in the country, much less the state, that they had originally resided in just a matter of a couple of hours. This is mainly because the United States offers many modes of transportation, with all states hosting multiple airports and even more bus stops. This allows for traffickers to move children out of where they lived and to their desired location easily. This also makes it less likely that the child will ever be found.

It only costs around $90 to “purchase” a child (Erase Human Trafficking). Generally, children are sold online on many sites, some as common as Craigslist. Because these sites are not malicious in nature, the government does not shut them down, allowing this industry to continue. After a child is trafficked or purchased, their future only becomes bleaker. According to Erase Child Trafficking, once a child is trafficked, they are only expected to live for an average of 7 more years. This is mostly due to how demanding, both physically and mentally, this tragic life is. The most common ways that a child dies after being trafficked is violence, STDs, drug overdose, or suicide. Because the average age of a child being trafficked is 13, these numbers are especially harrowing. 

This problem is not getting better, in fact, it’s escalating. With the rise of social media, it has become even easier for a child to become a victim to this crime. Now, traffickers can hide behind a screen to coerce a child into meeting them and, when the child does inevitably meet them in person, it is easier for the trafficker to take them away. When a trafficker kidnaps a child this way, they often don’t have to resort to violence since they already have the child’s trust. This has not only put more children into this international crime system but has also helped the system expand even more.

The United States government has taken a strong stance against child trafficking and has several government initiatives working against the trafficking of children. One of which is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a group that focuses on finding children who, among other circumstances, have been trafficked then reuniting them with their families if possible. They have anonymous tip lines, information for parents and educators, and a comprehensive set of resources for those whose child has gone missing. Another organization working to eliminate child trafficking is the Polaris Project. They operate the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and work on all aspects of human trafficking, such as the elimination of survivor’s criminal records, or collecting a large bank of data for the United States' use. These organizations provide hope for this issue, and prove that steps can be taken to eradicate it.

If You Suspect Child Trafficking: 

Emergency: Call 911 and speak to your local authorities

Suspected Cases: 

General trafficking- The National Human Trafficking Resource Center 1-888-373-7888

Sex trafficking- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children 1-800-THE-LOST


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