Stop the Torture of Children at the United States Border

Today ECPAT-USA's Executive Director, Carol Smolenski, released this statement calling for an immediate end to the torture of children at the United States border:

"Children are vulnerable to human trafficking—they are easy to manipulate, trick, and control.  We teach them that adults will take care of them. When a child is separated from their family for any reason whether poverty, natural disasters, wars, or through government policies they become more vulnerable to human trafficking.  

Being separated from one’s family can be extremely traumatizing. This trauma increases a child’s vulnerability to mental health problems that make them easy prey for people who want to take advantage of them such as traffickers and abusers. Growing up within an intact family provides a protective environment and supports a healthy prosperous future for every child. I cannot imagine a worse place to grow up in than an internment camp.  

A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border (John Moore/Getty Images)

The photos and videos we’ve all seen through the media are horrifying. I thought I lived in a country that at least made pronouncements that children are important, that we hold them in high regard, that children everywhere are precious and entitled to protection and care.  

The entire world has reached a consensus that children are people who have human rights, and that they even have special rights to protection because of their vulnerabilities. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has been universally ratified, with one exception. The U.S. is the only country that has not ratified this treaty. The current display of officially sanctioned child abuse and neglect epitomizes just how far outside the mainstream of global child-protection principles the current U.S. administration is.  

What is happening at the U.S. border with children from Latin America is a perversion of law enforcement and migration policy. It is the antithesis of everything the U.S. stands for (remember “give me your tired, your poor”?) As Americans, we believe in a United States that offers a shining beacon of hope to people from around the world. We thought we were better than this. We thought that inflicting suffering on babies and children in order to coerce their parents to act differently was something that bad countries did. It turns out that many of our fellow citizens don’t think this way at all. They think that any kind of emotional torture, even on the youngest children, is acceptable if you think it might keep people from coming to the U.S.

There are no words to describe how despicable this is. Every child needs their parents. Every government policy should protect the parent-child bond. The current policy of separating children from their parents, for whatever reason, is simply evil. It has to be stopped in the name of protecting children and of protecting our country. I urge the Administration to change policies that allow for the separation of children from their families at the borders and the release of all children back into the safety of their families."

Cover Photo: John Moore/Getty Images