Each year, an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked in the world, tens of thousands are trafficked in the United States each year, and of those, it is estimated that 30% are smuggled into the United States through the border with Mexico. Trafficking of children is not only about sex slavery, but also forced labor. A study by San Diego State University found that there are up to 2 million children in forced labor in the United States, the overwhelming majority are undocumented.
It is a well researched fact that children are trafficked across the US-Mexican border by the thousands every year. A national hotline setup by the Polaris Project for human trafficking sheds light on this epidemic. The psychological effects of a trafficked child are beyond devastating. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has documented some of the numerous life altering effects of a trafficked child. There are no mental health experts in the field who challenge the reality that trafficking a child ranks up as one of the most cruel and psychologically damaging realities possible.
Trafficked Children are Mostly Ignored by the Media
The majority of media attention at our border right now is regarding child separation with little mention as to the fact that among those children detained, some are enslaved against their will, hidden amongst the others. Most mental health experts agree that separation of children from their parents, if temporary and carried out carefully, will not generally lend itself to lasting psychological damage. Long term separating of children from their parents is much more traumatic. But even so, a trafficked child is not even in the same hemisphere when it comes to psychological damage compared to a separated child.
Trafficked children are extremely difficult to detect, as they frequently will not speak up out of fear, the signs and symptoms are often subtle, therefore trying to use the children themselves as a means to "determine" whether they are being trafficked is unreliable.
A Scenario To Think About:
Imagine being in a room with 10 children, all of whom are with adult guardians who claim to be the rightful parents. No one has documentation, no one has proof of parenthood. And yet, you know that of those 10 children, one of them is a sex slave. You have no idea who, all you know is that one of them is being habitually and forcibly abused in a never ending chain of horror. Would not the proper course of action be to immediately separate all children from the adults until you can determine the child who needs to be rescued? Which professional psychologist would not recommend such a course of action? To simply allow everyone to leave and go their own way would be catastrophic, as the child who is trafficked would then disappear under the radar, and this one chance at rescue would be gone.
This is a very real scenario at the current US border. Officials know empirically that among the many children crossing into the US, some of them are enslaved, and their masters are hoping to fly under the radar as "parents". We must be very careful about letting outrage over child separation blind us to a cancerous evil flowing underneath.
Separation as Standard Procedure for Decades
It is standard procedure that if any adult in the US, even a biological parent, tries to leave the country with a child, without proper documentation, they may be detained. A person cannot simply take a child and leave the country and expect that there will not be some sort of legal intervention, which may include temporary separation. Many parents have tried to kidnap their own children, to leave an ex-spouse, for example, and flee the country. Temporary separation of a child from a parent when a parent is in the process of doing something unlawful is normal, and this law has existed on our books, and the books of other first world nations, for decades.
More Transparency Is Necessary
And hence, the real issue going on at the border is that many parents and children are separated in a way that is harmful, without proper sensitivity to their mental health needs, and without transparency. There are too many dark areas of secrecy happening that the public is kept from, raising suspicions of harmful behavior towards children. To minimize damaging effects on children, any separation must be carefully executed with oversight by mental health professionals, and be as brief as possible, so they are quickly re-united with their parents.
But one thing is certain, if we adopt a policy that keeps all children with their escorting adult "guardians" no matter what, without any documentation, simply on the basis that we believe blindly that every child crossing the border with an adult equals a child with a real parent, then we are complicit in trafficking enslaved children who had a real chance at rescue, and instead were thrown back into darkness where they may never be discovered again. This is because some of those children at the border are being trafficked, we know this for a fact, and no one has documentation, no one has proof of parenthood, and there is simply no comparison of the devastating damage happening to trafficked children, vs ones who are temporarily separated from their parents.
Rapid DNA Testing can Help Determine Trafficked Children
Technology can play a crucial role in the current multi-decade long crisis at the US border where children are separated from their parents. Field DNA tests are capable of rapidly determining whether or not someone is an actual parent. In this regard, science can play a critical role in rescuing those children who are flying under the radar as slaves. To minimize harm towards all children at the southern border, DNA testing can go a long ways towards making quick determinations and reducing, or eliminating altogether, the traumatic effects of parent-child separation, while not ignoring the far greater evil of child trafficking.
Arthur Hunter is a computer programmer and co-founder of Theravive. He has been in the tech industry for over 20 years, with multiple Microsoft certifications. He has a love and passion for the intersection of technology and mental health and how the gadgets we use and the time we spend on them play a part in our mental well being, for better or worse. Together with his wife in 2007 they founded Theravive, which currently has thousands of licensed therapists and psychologists. He enjoys writing on occasion, reporting on mental health and technology. You can reach Arthur at 360-350-8627 or write him at webadmin - at - theravive.com.