Child Trafficking

What is Child Trafficking?

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines “severe forms of human trafficking” as:

The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for:

  • sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Coercion includes threats of physical or psychological harm to children and/or their families. Any child (under the age of 18) engaged in commercial sex is a victim of trafficking.

Human trafficking happens “anytime and anywhere,” impacting more than 12 million children and adults, according to the 2010 U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report. The International Labour Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimate that 1.2 million of these victims are under the age of 18.

Children 12 and younger are included in the numbers exploited and abused by traffickers. When children are trafficked, their right to develop in a nurturing and loving environment is stolen from them. Their right to be free and protected from sexual, physical, and emotional abuse is also taken from them. At times, individuals whom they perceive as their protectors and caregivers are the individuals that prey on them.  Exploiting children through forced labor or commercial sex, traffickers take many forms including peers, community and family connections, pimps, family members or organized labor groups.

Protecting children from this horrendous reality starts with awareness. 

What are the indicators of child trafficking?

These indicators were compiled through joint efforts of Migration and Refugee Services/Anti-Trafficking Services Program staff and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime:

  • Evidence of sexual, physical, mental or emotional abuse
  • Engagement in work unsuitable for children
  • Identification/documents confiscated by employer or someone else
  • Isolation – no access to family members or friends
  • Not in school or significant gaps in schooling
  • Threats against family members
  • Working unusually long hours, no access to their wages, and/or little, if any, time off
  • Living in the workplace or with employer
  • Have tattoos or other marks indicating ownership by their exploiter – “branding”
  • Children owing large sums of money
  • Appear unusually fearful or anxious for themselves or family members

What should you do if you encountered a child victim?

  1. Contact your local law enforcement or child protection authorities in accordance with your state’s mandatory child abuse/neglect reporting laws.  Many cases of trafficking may be prosecuted as child abuse, and vice-versa, depending on local laws.  Law enforcement and child welfare agencies cross-reports in most jurisdictions; however, it is a good idea to contact both.  Keep in mind that if you are a mandatory reporter, many state laws require that you directly report suspected child abuse and neglect and cannot give the responsibility to report to another person.
  2. Call the USCCB Anti-Trafficking Services Program 1-866-504-9966 for case consultation and accessing services in your area for foreign national child victims of trafficking.
  3. Call the National Trafficking in Persons Information and Referral Hotline 1-888-373-7888 (funded by the Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement) for general information, or to access services in your area.
  4. Call the national Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force complaint line 1-888-428-7581 (sponsored by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor) to begin an investigation of a suspected case by federal law enforcement authorities.
  5. Contact the Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement Child Protection Specialist to request interim assistance and eligibility letters for foreign national child victims of human trafficking. 202-205-4582 or

Trafficking impacts more than adults – it impacts children and teenagers, the most vulnerable segment of our society and the consequences of trafficking are grave and far-reaching for this population.

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