The Role of Parents in Child Trafficking

by Amanda Kloer

335829762_ddeffade82-199x300Across the world and here in the U.S., parents sometimes play a role in the trafficking of their own children.  The parents’ intentions vary from the purely criminal to the completely innocent, and everywhere in between.  Here are some of the common ways in which parents play a role in the trafficking of their children.

Parents Directly Traffick Kids

Sadly, sometimes, parents directly traffick their children.  I worked with one case in the U.S. where a father was giving his young sons to pedophiles in exchange for beer and cigarettes.  A case recently cited in the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report involved a five-year-old sold into prostitution by her stepmother in Nicaragua.  Direct parental trafficking can be as simple as a mother trading her teenage daughter to the landlord for rent that month, or as complicated as parents involved in a larger, multi-child crime ring.  In my experience, the smaller scale parental trafficking, and especially in exchange for drugs, rent, food, etc. is more often the case.

Parents Knowingly Sell Children into Trafficking

Often, this is the sort of parental trafficking you hear about in the media: A destitute family in India/Thailand/Bolivia sells one child into slavery in order to feed the rest.  Sometimes the situation is that simple, but more frequently it’s more complicated.  Parents may realize they are signing their child into debt bondage, but believe the debt can be worked off or is limited to a short time period.  Parents may intend to send their child to work, but may believe he or she will be better paid, better fed, or work in less dangerous conditions than turns out to be the case.  In one case, a Bangladeshi mother sold her daughter into debt bondage to work as a domestic servant but thought the debt would be repaid in 5 years and the daughter well-fed during her time working.  In reality, the debt continued to grow and the girl was allowed a small bowl of rice a day, with a serving of vegetables once a week.

Parents Are Negligent or Abusive and Allow Trafficking

Parental negligence or abuse can allow for child trafficking to occur.  Children may run away from an abusive home and fall victim to traffickers.  They may be more susceptible to predatory pimps offering them the love they have been stared for.  Parental negligence may even make it easier for traffickers to kidnap children or otherwise force them away from home.  In the U.S., foster youth are extremely vulnerable to trafficking in part because of issues with parental negligence and abuse.  I worked with one case of a girl who was trafficked into prostitution at 15 because she ran away from a negligent, abusive home.

Parents Are Duped By Traffickers

In some cases, traffickers trick parents into believing their children are going to school or to work, especially in another country, and will be well-paid and cared for.  Sometimes the trafficker is a distant relative promising a Western education.  Sometimes the trafficker is promising a job as dancer/waitress/model which turns out to be prostitution.  Sometimes, once the child is gone and no money is sent home and no letter written, the parents realize what has happened.  Other times, traffickers may force or forge correspondence home to tell the parents their children are safe and happy and the money is being put in a “special account”.  This is a common technique of traffickers, especially where parents are poorly educated or illiterate.


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