by Fr. Tom Brennan, SDB
The panel focused on strategies to prevent child trafficking, especially among unaccompanied young migrants, many of whom are seeking to reunite with parents who migrated earlier. Panel members exposed the vulnerabilities of children at risk of being trafficked for the purpose of forced labor and sexual exploitation, whether as a migrant or a homeless child or a youth. Additionally, it noted mitigating factors to address and prevent these forms of modern slavery.
The panel presented their remarks in light of the commitments made by the U.N.’s member states in the Sustainable Development Goals, especially those specifically addressing trafficking: 5.2, 8.7, and 16.2. Panelists also highlighted the importance of addressing the eradication of poverty, child and youth health and education, and the empowerment of the girl child in eliminating the trafficking of children.
Among the many topics covered in the presentations and the responses to questions, it was striking to hear a number of references made to the nature of the manipulation that is involved in trafficking children. Traffickers have mastered the skill of exploiting the dreams and hopes of the young. With promises of education, safety, employment, and a better future, unscrupulous adults have conned children and adults into believing that they have the best interests of the child in mind as they bring them to a new place.
One adult holding out a false dream can begin the spiral downward for a young person. Conversely, one passionate person who truly has the best interests of the child in mind can assist in recovery. Those in attendance at the panel were challenged to become that one agent of good in the lives of vulnerable youths to prevent trafficking and/or help in recovery and wellness.
In the presentations, the key concepts raised included, inter alia, the need to protect the human rights of young migrants; doing a multi-systems evaluation of prevention efforts and victim assistance projects; poverty as a prime motivating driver in migration and trafficking of persons; the vulnerability of youths during humanitarian crises and natural disasters; addressing the under-reporting of sexual exploitation of children on the move; the demand for cheap labor and sexual exploitation.
The seven-member panel included two ambassadors, two U.N. officials, a Harvard professor, a religious sister, and a Covenant House staff member. Fr. Thomas Brennan, SDB, moderated the panel, which was co-sponsored by the U.N. missions of Guatemala and Cyprus, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Salesian Missions, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Mercy International, Scalabrini International Migration Network, and the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd.