US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Children trafficking and respect for life

By Father Tom Joyce, CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

I like police procedural dramas, and among my favorites are the Law and Order series. One episode of SVU was about a young girl killed when she darted out in front of a taxi. Her father, who had lost his wife to cancer and was homeless with two other children, had contracted the girl and her brother to work on a farm on Long Island when they were in their early teens. He thought at least they would be well fed and safely housed, but their labor turned out to be in the sex trade. The crack team of detectives found themselves in the midst of human trafficking in the streets of New York--an abuse of human dignity we often attribute to the developing countries of Asia and Africa.

Sex trafficking is a terrible violation of the very life, freedom, and right of a child to develop safely to full physical and emotional maturity. But trafficking in children is an evil more widespread than the sex trade. Millions more children are caught in other oppressive and exploitative work situations. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 352 million children 17 years or younger are working; only a third of them employed in work that is suitable to their ages and not injurious to their full education and development. That means about 215 million are in work that is either forced or unacceptable labor--1.8 million in prostitution and/or pornography.

In the Law and Order episode, the girl was fleeing her own brother, a male prostitute, when she ran in front of the cab. He wanted to bring her back to the streets and the sex trade. When the medical examiner saw the body of the girl, it was clear she had been physically abused and was pregnant. When the detective brought the brother in questioning, they found he similarly had bruises from beatings.

All the steps toward sexual enslavement were in place--a poor family, so desperate for their children that they give them over to strangers so they might eat or have better opportunities (sometimes the family will even sell their children); false promises as to the children's safety and the nature of their work; physical abuse (most commonly beatings and mental pressure); and isolation from parents and authorities. With time the children are fully inducted into the sex trade. It's all they know. In the TV drama the woman who conned the father into surrendering his children to work on the farm was herself a victim of child sex trafficking.

The press and movies have made much of these sensational and gross abuses of children--sex trafficking, boy soldiers, farming body parts. These certainly are horrendous and shock our sense of justice. But trafficking in children is more common than we think. Neither is it far from our daily lives. If we have cell phone in our pocket or use a laptop, we must realize the gold, tin, tantalum, and tungsten in them may come from the Congo and been mined by forced labor, often by children.

This is Respect Life month--from the womb to the tomb. The exploitation of children for work, especially in the sex trade, ought to be part of our reflection and prayers on life. God's intent is that the child comes into the world and is to grow to full maturity. But greed has turned many to destroyers of children to provide us with our pleasures and gadgets.

There are ways to combat this evil. The international community has signed covenants against forced labor and to protect children. The ILO monitors enforcement, but implementation is the duty of governments. Non-governmental organizations, such as the British Anti-Slavery Society, have helped by developing effective grass-roots programs and actions to keep tabs on governments and businesses that profit from forced child labor. Other NGOs rescue children and give them a new start in life. They urge to be aware children are being traded in our own streets and we carry products in our own pockets what is the fruit of the forced labor of children. Respect life.

Editors' Note: This post is Father Tom Joyce, C.M.F.'s contribution to our Respect Life blog posts.