US-Mexico Border

Child Abuse As Government Policy - A Response To The 2019 TIP Report

Click through to see the full report

Click through to see the full report

There is a lot to be applauded in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report launched on June 20 by the U.S. State Dept., but all of it is overshadowed by the abomination of the treatment of children currently taking place on the U.S.-Mexico border.  What an absurd policy clash: the TIP report rolled out the same week that the horrors on the border are exposed.  

To start, let’s review the good things in the report about U.S. government efforts to protect children from exploitation within the U.S.:

• It recognizes that U.S. children in the foster care system are vulnerable to traffickers and mentions a pilot program to identify children missing from foster care. Policy makers are beginning to understand and mitigate the conditions that make children vulnerable to trafficking, for example, living in an unstable family situation.  

• Appropriations for services for victims of human trafficking and child welfare systems have increased, which shows that there is an increased awareness that children need health care, education, and housing. 

• It is commendable that the report mentions the special needs of LGBTQ individuals - though there is a long way to go to set up systems that universally serve these youth.  

• 34 states have “safe harbor” laws that keep children from being arrested for the crime of prostitution. This is good but, keeping in mind that the movement to protect children from arrest for prostitution began in 2007 when the first of such a state law was passed, there appears to be a slowing of momentum in this movement. At this point in time, every state should provide a minimal level of protection to children who are sex trafficking victims.  

• Other good things: 1) there is increased funding for local human trafficking task forces  2) - which was highly targeted by traffickers - was taken down 3) The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was reauthorized and strengthened again

However, alongside all these advancements, we cannot forget that on the border, children, including toddlers, are being held in detention without their parents - unfed, unwashed, overcrowded, and uncared for.  The emerging reports from these facilities describe conditions that would cause child welfare workers to call the police, remove the children and have the responsible parties arrested.  

This in-progress criminal behavior by U.S. government representatives lays the foundation for making these children vulnerable to trafficking in the future. Traffickers seek to recruit vulnerable, isolated children; children who do not have a safe and secure family setting to protect them; children who have been abused; poor children. The very TIP report itself demonstrates that U.S. government policymakers recognize this.  And yet it is also U.S. policies that are forcing children to live in inhumane conditions that will have long-term harmful impact on the healthy development and well-being of thousands of children and make them targets for traffickers. These two things exist side by side: good child protection policies moving forward as described in the TIP report and a hideous portrait of child abuse carried out by the same government. 

In response, ECPAT-USA has one more “Prioritized Recommendation” to add to the TIP Report: Don’t carry out mass detention of children under abusive conditions.   

State Department Report Cites Trafficking Dangers of Family Separation

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.

An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, June 23, 2018. David J. Phillip/AP

An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, June 23, 2018. David J. Phillip/AP

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”?)”.

More Information

View the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, in particular the section on Child Institutionalization and Human Trafficking.

Read our Executive Director’s statement on the torture of children at the United States border.