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Human trafficking, also known as “trafficking in persons,” is not new. I’m particularly concerned about trafficked children. In early America, orphaned Irish children were bought to become workers on homesteads and in brothels and pubs. In the 1950s, Native American children in South Dakota were bought for ten dollars. Many were kidnapped, abused, and then sold. Since then, other ways of stealing children have developed. Even today, when we see large numbers of children being adopted, we should ask why and how this came to be.

For ten years, I have been giving presentations and creating awareness of human trafficking’s existence and have seen this crime expand rather than diminish. Because of the nature of the crime, extracting data is complex and limited; however, as the World Labor Organization (2016) reported, there are an estimated 25 million people victims of human trafficking. COVID, natural disasters, wars, as well as lack of education about human trafficking are increased risks to those who are disempowered.

The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons breaks labor trafficking into three elements: Act (recruitment, transportation, transferring, harboring, receiving), Means (force/fraud/coercion, abduction, threat, deceit, abuse of power) and Purpose (forced labor, indentured servitude, debt bondage, slavery).

Anti-trafficking efforts are made through international laws, government agencies, regulations, and policies designed to stop human trafficking. The Departments of State and Labor and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) develop and manage projects to prevent trafficking, assist survivors, and prosecute traffickers. State and Labor publish reports such as the Trafficking in Persons Report, rank countries on their anti-trafficking efforts. The latest will be mailed this fall (2022). To request a copy, email [email protected] and provide your mailing address.

Law Enforcement efforts locally and federally, such as the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), work to uphold laws governing imports of goods produced by slave labor. Unfortunately, they are understaffed, overworked, under-budgeted, and don’t readily share information and training, and lack monitoring and special skills.

The Department of Defense (DOD) and USAID oversee contractors for overseas contracts to be sure workers are protected, and anti-trafficking laws are protected. The DOD includes overseeing commissaries to ensure available goods are procured and produced without slave labor.

These efforts are noteworthy, but according to the latest findings, as reported by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) (Sept. 2022) (GAO – 22 – 106029), they confirm problems with how these agencies and their work progresses. Staffing gaps, unclear roles, and responsibilities are issues that hamper progress. For instance, CPD underestimated their staffing and specialized skills, which meant issues in enforcing prohibiting forced labor, which led to scaling back anti-trafficking efforts.

Data and documentation are unreliable, inadequate, and incomplete. Information sharing and monitoring are weak internationally as well as at local levels of law enforcement agencies. A continued lack of quality training, shortage of staff, overworked staff, and underfunding hamper anti-trafficking efforts.

What can we do as individuals and collectively? Start by keeping this number handy: (US) National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888 Call when you think you know of a trafficking situation.

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