World Day Against Child Trafficking: The Unspoken Story.

This article was written by Justin Zhou, Public Relations associate, with information from the Legal Information Institute, the UNHCR, and the International Labour Organization.

“Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it is not there.”

It is a common saying, but it stands true; illegal activities, deeply rooted in a network of perpetrators and victims, happen everywhere around us even without us knowing. Human trafficking is one of those underground activities that has become a growing epidemic on a global scale. Its elusive nature makes it extremely hard to combat, but we make our marks to fight the inhumane practice of modern day slavery.

Amongst those who are subjected to trafficking, children are the most vulnerable. Subjected to both physical and psychological torment, victims will continue to suffer from a troubled mental state of mind well into their adulthood. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons.” as: the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. In other forms of human trafficking, sex trafficking is a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age. It is undeniable that children are often targets of these exploitations due to their immaturity, lack of security and protection.

Many are forced to take jobs to support their livelihood or, in other cases, those who run away from troubling family issues. These situations are escalated in areas of the world where war and conflict persist, as more children are often displaced. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. In a 2012 press release by the International Labor Organization (ILO), 21 million people are victims of forced laborhood with up to three out of 1000 people globally subjected to forced labor with 26% of them being children. Amongst those numbers, women are more trafficked than men by a margin of 10 percent.

Usually, victims have many aspects of their lives controlled by the perpetrator. They are not allowed to freely move around and are unpaid or paid very little. They work excessively long hours and are not allowed breaks. Often times, they suffer from restrictions during work and are financially trapped by owning significant amounts of debt. They are usually recruited through false promises that include high wages or amenities such as providing a living space, upon induction, the victim is often trapped in housing with boarded up and bars on windows, barbed wire and monitored with cameras. In such fearful conditions, victims develop attributes of anxiety and will grow to become more depressed, submissive, nervous and paranoid. and exhibit unusually fearful or anxious behavior that includes avoiding eye contact. Victims often show signs of physical or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture.

Internationally, organizations like UNICEF have taken crucial steps to combat trafficking institutions including the roots of child exploitation, poverty, and discrimination. Over the years, UNICEF’s global efforts tackle problems such as providing parents a living wage so children can receive an education instead of being forced to find work and support the family. This provides an environment where children do not necessarily need to find work to provide for the family. Other initiatives include lobbying government and other institutions to advocate for stronger laws to protect children from abuse and violence. Along with strengthening child labor laws, these acts are slowly reworking regulations to be more friendly towards children.

On local levels, UNICEF aims to work with communities and religious, faith-based organizations to promote and make aware of child exploitation issue to build a more inclusive place. UNICEF also advocates for supporting the training of professionals working with children including social workers, health workers and police and border officials to help stop trafficking. Although child trafficking feels like a growing global issue that is intimidating, and that only big United Nations organizations like UNICEF can tackle the problem, you can do a lot in this international mission to make the world safer for children. Here are 7 ways that you can help out.

By no means is child trafficking easy to combat, however, by being mindful that there are institutions that exist to take advantage of children you have already taken the first step in uncovering these cruel practices. Be on alert when you see the discussed attribute of a child forced into unfair labor or other practices.