Child trafficking and exploitation are violations of human rights. This paper reviews the threats to the emotional, physical, and mental well-being of a child as a victim of the vice. Many traffickers are adept at using complex trauma to control victims. They manipulate victims psychologically, coerce them, and even use physical violence. Children break down emotionally and mentally when they are exposed physically, sexually, and psychologically to violent acts. They also feel imprisoned when sent to work in unknown places and forced to depend on alcohol and drugs for pain relief.
Child exploitation and trafficking contravene the rights of the child in one of the most severe ways imaginable (Rafferty, 2008). Children need education, family care, and appropriate health care. However, the trafficking of children denies them opportunities to enjoy these qualities in life. Without education introduced at the right age and sustained, children end up exhibit developmental delays.
Physical and sexual abuse can also affect educational performance negatively for children who already receive a form of formal schooling. Child trafficking victims end up staying in inhumane conditions and may be the targets of physical abuse or sexual abuse that has a serious negative consequence on a child’s health. The biggest health risk facing trafficked and exploited children is malnutrition, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases. On the other hand, persistent threats, isolation, and emotional or physical neglect lead to lower self-esteem and low confidence development for children.
Statistics on the Threat of Children Trafficking and Exploitation
The following summary of global statistics on the threat that children face regarding trafficking and exploitation comes from a The Ark of Hope for Children, an organization that deals with children’s issues and tracks the numbers globally that are in line with its cause (Ark of Hope for Children, 2014). According to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), from 2010 to 2012, the presentation of child victims of drugs and crimes rose from 20 percent to 27 percent with two out of every three child victims being girls.
The US government provides an estimate of 600,000 to 800,000 victims of trafficking who are women and children, with children making up more than half of that number. At the same time, internationally, more than 76 percent of transactions for sex include an underage person.
Globally, UNICEF estimates that there are 2 million children used in the global commercial sex trade as prostitutes. As of 2012, there were 20.9 million trafficking victims globally and in the United States, the number was 1.5 million (Ark of Hope for Children, 2014). The statistics presented above paint a grave picture of child exploitation and trafficking in the world and serve as a motivating factor for law authorities and relevant organizations to increase their efforts at dealing with the vice.
Understanding Statistics from a Global Perspective
A protective environment for children must consider all stakeholders at regional and local child environments. The legal instruments available for ensuring that children are protected from exploitation and trafficking include universal human rights and many countries’ specific laws. Globally, the most recognized institutions dealing with children’s affairs, including abuse and trafficking, is the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The organization has some programs that directly influence victims and at the same time address policy issues in areas where the problem is prevalent. UNICEF provides a definition and framework for dealing with child exploitation and trafficking. According to its website UNICEF (2015), child trafficking relates to various actions and intentions. The notable ones are, “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring and receipt of children” (UNICEF, 2015, p. 1), with one of the aims of doing so being to exploit them economically, socially or in any other way, and the organization goes on to clarify that such actions lead to the disruption of a child’s ability to enjoy a normal life.
The problem of child trafficking exists within the general crime of human trafficking, a modern-day slavery form that destabilizes the life of about 800,000 victims annually. The number represents persons trafficked through international borders. Children represent more than half of the number of key motivations of their trafficking is sexual exploitation, such as prostitution and pornography. Other motivations are laboring in domestic capacities or hospitality industries and farms. Third world countries and the Soviet Union are the primary sources of child trafficking. These countries lack appropriate legislation or policing capacity to stop the vice.
Threats to Physical Well-being
Injuries and diseases are the biggest threat to physical well-being, and mishandling of children usually causes them during transit or when held hostage. Diseases arise out of environmental conditions such as exposure to cold and dirty places. On the other hand, sexual abuse can introduce sexually transmitted diseases to a child. Lack of health care access for the children also increases the threats to their physical well-being (Fong & Berger, 2010).
Threats to Emotional Well-being
Unlike the physical threats that are visible, emotional risks persist and exist at a psychological level. When a child is removed from his or her family, he or she experiences physical and emotional trauma that can linger on for a while, even after the child is freed from sexual exploitation or traffickers. The detachment from homes and communities forces the child to develop a new identity without any support that would be available in a typical child growing environment.
Also, children being exploited end up having to deal with adult issues before they have matured enough to handle them. This places a major emotional toll on the children. Having to deal with labor issues, productivity, and customer satisfaction, at the same time responding to adult-centered requests provides children with a harsh emotional environment to navigate (Fong & Berger, 2010).
Threats to Mental Well-Being
Mental well-being corresponds to the ability of the child to realize his or her potential and cope with ordinary stress in life. However, in the exploited or trafficked child case, stress levels are not normal, and even the environment of growing up is not normal. There is no playtime, and no family to offer care both physical and emotional. Treatment as an object or a commodity also damages the child’s sense of self-worth and affects the child’s reasoning when confronted with life’s stresses.
At the same time, physiological conditions are not always appropriate to support mental well-being. Excessive traveling in poor conditions, too much work, and waking hours for the child, too much exposure to drugs and alcohol all contribute to mental damages. Children may grow to rely on wrong sources of assistance for coping with their stresses. They can rely on alcohol or drugs. The inability to cope with their environments and lack of upbringing in ordinary social conditions can also make children exhibit anti-social behaviors that are not supportive of their mental well-being.
Correcting the Ills of Child Trafficking and Exploitation
Caregivers are the first respondents to child victims and the biggest challenge for them is usually to gain the trust of the victim. Many traffickers are adept at using complex trauma to control victims (Cook, Blaustein, Spinazzola, & van der Kolk, 2005). They manipulate victims psychologically, coerce them, and even use physical violence. Children break down emotionally when they are exposed physically, sexually, and psychologically to violent acts on themselves or other children.
They also feel imprisoned when sent to work in unknown places and forced to depend on alcohol and drugs for pain relief. A child’s normal growth should not be all about survival. The work of caregivers rescuing and introducing children to a normal life should be to expose the victims to forms of social acceptance. This will work towards repairing the emotional well-being of the victims.
Children recovering from child trafficking and exploitation may exhibit unwanted behavior. Caregivers must understand that the source of the behavior is in the hardwired brain of the child. In many cases, the behavior is involuntary as the child does not yet acclimatize to a new environment. Many children rescued from exploitation will show attachment difficulties. They may also have an increased risk of sexualized behavior. Others opt to self-harm or use alcohol and drugs to detach themselves from society. Caregivers must also be ready to deal with issues pronounced by suicidal behaviors and hostility.
Factors Contributing to the Threats of Exploitation and Trafficking of Children
According to Greenbaum (2014), threat factors can be categorized into the family, individual, community, and society. Some of these factors are already addressed in other sections of this paper. A summary of them is as follows: there is level gang membership, neglect and abuse, and limited education at the individual. Poverty, unemployment, and perceptions of children as objects and commercial commodities are factored at the family level.
At the community level, there are high crime rates, peer pressure, social norms that tolerate exploitation, and adult prostitution in an area that contributes to the menace. Lastly, at the societal level, there is a lack of awareness about the vice or the corrective measures, law enforcement and corruption, or political corruption, together with condoning sex tourism increase the threats of the vice. Lack of resources to combat exploitation and trafficking of children is also a major societal factor (Greenbaum, 2014).
While handling child trafficking through policies and policing action works, an understanding of the criminals behind the vice also helps authorities and other stakeholder agencies to deal with the problem in a social context. The perpetrators of the crime are heterogeneous in their characteristics, and this categorization opens up the criteria for responding to suspicions on anybody deemed a threat (Rafferty, 2008).
A second consideration is a punishment by law and by a society that is accorded to the perpetrators. Lenient punishment does not serve to curtail the vice, but it may have temporary successes. On the other hand, severe punishment may curtail the vice by altering society-wide behaviors. However, cases of the wrong accusation and insufficient evidence for the prosecution also play a part in making the policing action effective (Ark of Hope for Children, 2014).
Many child traffickers follow illegal channels of entering into their host country. Kidnappers or professional brokers can take them. In some countries with high poverty statuses, families sell their children to traffickers while others pawn their children. Many of these families have no idea of what happens after their children are taken away.
In some cases, children are trafficked to the same country. Another contributing factor to trafficking is children’s vulnerabilities when they run away from their homes due to hardships and other social or family problems. Based on this review, perpetrators mainly exploit the need for financial help expressed by the victims or the victim’s families. They also use false promises to lure children and rely on the ignorance of their victims to achieve their objectives (Ark of Hope for Children, 2014).
Practical Considerations when Dealing with Child Trafficking and Exploitation
The definitions used in this paper and those used by other organizations in charge of policing or reintegrating child victims of society only follow a common agenda. However, no explicit definition exists. Practitioners are best served with the policies and definitions of various operations terms that are accepted by major government bodies and global intergovernmental organizations, such as UNICEF. The adoption of these definitions and working frameworks ensures that efforts and interventions in any part of the world are compatible at least in one way with other mechanisms and policies in other parts of the world. This is important as the nature of the exploitation and trafficking of children is global.
Besides, there are local contexts, especially when the case in question is molestation. This may not move beyond national boundaries and are best served by organizations and policies within a country. However, there is a problem with being too dependent only on country-specific policies. Some countries, due to the traditional and cultural beliefs of their dominant populations, may not exhibit the willingness to combat child exploitation with the gusto it deserves.
On the other hand, there are social problems that act as impediments to the reporting, correction, and prevention of child exploitation, especially sexual molestation. The sacred nature of the atrocities included as part of child molestation, as defined by many cultures around the world makes it inappropriate for people to speak openly about them. In this regard, sensitization programs around the world, targeting vulnerable communities have been in handy at addressing stigma. Most notable molestation actions that are covered by stigma include fondling a child’s genitals, masturbation, oral-genital contact, digital penetration, and virginal or anal intercourse (Rafferty, 2008).
Many children who are victims of exploitation or trafficking avoid self-identification. Some reasons support the behavior. Mostly it is the proximity to the trafficker or the exploiter, lack or limited knowledge of the local culture, distrust of authorities, and not perceiving themselves as victims. The last point may also arise as a survival mechanism for victims when they are afraid of social shaming (Greenbaum, 2014). When handling any case of trafficking, the handler must first find out the specific stage of the victim in the trafficking chain explained by Greenbaum (2014). The stages are pre-departure, travel and transit, destination detention, deportation, and criminal evidence and integration, and reintegration stage.
The threats to the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of children who are victims of trafficking and exploitation are real and can have a lifetime effect on the child. This paper has explored these threats in the context of the factors promoting the vice, and motivations for policies and organizations dealing with the vice. It presents views from research, authorities, and stakeholders in the fight against child trafficking and exploitation. Overall, the paper shows that children who are victims may end up in their situation from several sources. At the same time, dealing with the threats posed to the children’s well-being requires a coordinated effort by practitioners at local and international levels.
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Cook, A., Blaustein, M., Spinazzola, J., & van der Kolk. (2005). Complex trauma in children and adolescents. Psychiatric Annals, 35, 390-398.
Fong, R., & Berger, C. J. (2010). Child human trafficking victims: Challenges for the child welfare system. Evaluation and Program Planning, 33(3), 311-316. Web.
Greenbaum, V. J. (2014). Commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of children in the United States. Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care, 44(9), 245–269. Web.
Rafferty, Y. (2008). The impact of trafficking on children: Psychological and social policy perspectives. Society for Research in Child Development, 2(1), 13-18. Web.
UNICEF. (2015). Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse: Child trafficking. Web.