The State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report last Thursday, warning governments about the dangers of separating families and institutionalizing children. Within the past three months, 2,300 migrant families have been separated at the U.S.- Mexico border, leaving vulnerable children at a greater risk of human trafficking.
“Children in institutional care, including government-run facilities, can be easy targets for traffickers,” the report reads. These institutions, it states, cannot provide the emotional and psychological support these children would get in an intact familial situation.
The TIP Report’s warning against child institutionalization echoes an earlier statement from Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT-USA: “Children are vulnerable to human trafficking—they are easy to manipulate, trick, and control...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.” She also said that separation from parents can lead to greater risks later on including mental health issues, namely trauma, “[making] them easy prey for people who want to take advantage of them.”
The TIP Report also states that children leaving or aging out of these institutions do not escape the dangers. “The vulnerability to human trafficking continues, in part due to the physical and psychological damage many of these children have suffered.” Being in a family allows children to “experience common life or social situations, and practice using cognitive reasoning and problem-solving skills.” Without the ability to develop these social, emotional, and psychological skills, these children and young adults continue to be susceptible to traffickers.
The immigration policy widely referred to as the “zero-tolerance” policy was implemented in April, sending minors to government run facilities while they awaited the prosecution of their parents and guardians. Though the policy was ended June 20th, 2,047 children remain in the facilities.
“What is happening at the U.S. border with children from Latin America is a perversion of law enforcement and migration policy,” said Ms. Smolenski. “It is the antithesis of everything the U.S. stands for (remember “give me your tired, your poor”?)”.