Child Labor Trafficking Is Ensnaring Both US- and Foreign-Born, Study Finds

June 07, 2024

Child labor trafficking remains a “largely hidden” phenomenon that imperils economically and socially vulnerable youth in the US, encompassing 58% of youth who are from other countries and 42% who are American citizens, a new study conducted with support from the National Institute of Justice finds. Across the cases examined by the scholars were 132 child labor trafficking victims (with an average age of 14) and 145 child labor trafficking perpetrators. The data were supplemented with in-depth interviews with legal advocates, victim service providers, child welfare, law enforcement and other government officials, as well as adult child labor trafficking survivors. “The prevalence of child labor trafficking victims who experience exploitative labor practices (97%), fraud (91%), and/or threats of physical violence (95%) paints a distressing picture,” according to the report. “Our study shows that most first responders who engage with children, including child welfare agencies, law enforcement, labor investigators, and even schools are not identifying child labor trafficking cases, and often misidentify child labor trafficking cases,” the authors write.

Child labor trafficking remains a “largely hidden” phenomenon that imperils economically and socially vulnerable youth in the US, encompassing 58% of youth who are from other countries and 42% who are American citizens, a new study conducted with support from the National Institute of Justice finds.

Examining 71 cases of child labor trafficking prosecuted by US officials or served by legal advocacy agencies in recent years, the study found strong evidence that labor trafficking ensnares teens and younger children widely, far from being made up of migrants alone—in industries ranging from domestic work to forced criminality, entertainment, and agriculture.

Authored by researchers from Northeastern University, New York University, and Loyola School of Law, the new report, titled “Understanding the Trafficking of Children for the Purpose of Labor in the United States,” is one of the first federally supported studies ever to look closely into the composition of child labor trafficking in the United States. Among the study’s six authors is Meredith Dank, a clinical associate professor at the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management and nationally recognized expert on human trafficking.

Across the cases examined by the scholars were 132 child labor trafficking victims (with an average age of 14) and 145 child labor trafficking perpetrators. The data were supplemented with in-depth interviews with legal advocates, victim service providers, child welfare, law enforcement and other government officials, as well as adult child labor trafficking survivors.

The aim of the new study is to fill in gaps in knowledge about the persistent exploitation of the young and vulnerable in a broad spectrum of industries, from domestic work to forced criminality, entertainment, and agriculture. Perpetrators were found to be predominantly in their 20s and 30s, and commonly known to the victim, including, in 40% of the cases, a parent or other family member.

“The prevalence of child labor trafficking victims who experience exploitative labor practices (97%), fraud (91%), and/or threats of physical violence (95%) paints a distressing picture,” according to the report.

Among several recommendations in the report is improved training for first responders such as police, immigration officials, schools, child welfare systems, juvenile justice systems, and labor inspectors. “Our study shows that most first responders who engage with children, including child welfare agencies, law enforcement, labor investigators, and even schools are not identifying child labor trafficking cases, and often misidentify child labor trafficking cases,” the authors write.

“Moreover,” they add, “stakeholders and adjudicators do not apply a developmentally informed analysis of ‘coercion’ in determining if a child is trafficked or not, assuming children’s capacity to assess risk is the same as adults.”

At same time the findings show “Approximately 45% of victims demonstrated remarkable resilience by escaping the victimization situation or seeking help independently. In some cases, when they sought help, assistance was denied due to characterization of the trafficking as a ‘family problem’ or ‘labor issue”’ versus the crime of labor trafficking.”

The various situations imperiling child workers can be complex and entrenched. In one 2023 case, noted in the study, the US Department of Labor uncovered 13 different meatpacking facilities run by a single corporation, where illegally hired children were found to have worked overnight cleaning dangerous equipment while exposed to harmful cleaning chemicals. Among the remedies needed, according to the researchers, is expansion of vocational programs to provide valuable skills while offering safe, lawful employment opportunities for children. The study also underlines the need for creating safe, rapid, subsidized alternative housing options for minors, regardless of immigration status, in order to help reduce their vulnerability to dangerous forms of illegal employment.

The source of this news is from New York University

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