Since 2010, January has been recognized as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month by a presidential proclamation. The International Labor Organization estimated in 2022, that as many as 1.2 million children are trafficked each year. One in four victims of human trafficking are children. Recent films like Sound of Freedom can feed the narrative that trafficked children are snatched by bad guys they don't know (and certainly, that does happen), but the vast majority of children are actually trafficked by people they know and trust. Surprisingly, this can include orphanages: a phenomenon known as "orphanage trafficking."
Orphanage trafficking is described as the recruitment of children into residential care institutions for the purpose of profit and exploitation. In October 2023, the 147th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly meeting in Angola, adopted a resolution entitled "Orphanage Trafficking: The role of parliaments in reducing harm." It calls for parliaments around the world to take "appropriate measures to prevent and address the harms related to volunteering programmes in orphanages, including in the context of tourism, which can lead to trafficking and exploitation." The resolution notes "that orphanage trafficking as a form of trafficking and modern slavery is a growing international concern that must be addressed through cross-border collaboration and cooperation." One hundred and eighty parliaments have endorsed this resolution - the first global action plan to combat any form of child trafficking.
Lumos, an international children's charity, released a report in 2021 identifying global patterns of institution-related trafficking, using evidence collected from 84 organizations across 45 countries. It highlighted instances of sexual exploitation as well as children being forced to work or perform for foreign donors to secure funding, children living in unsafe or un-hygienic conditions to attract donors to give more, and some instances where foreign visitors were given unsupervised access to children for hours or even overnight. Many children enter institutions with forged identity documents, including false parental death certificates, and then are coached to pose as orphans to solicit donations. In some cases children are trafficked through orphanages into international adoptions that not only exploit the vulnerability of these children, but also the desperate birth families who don't realize that their desire to get their children access to services in the orphanage could result in them losing them forever, and the adoptive families who often have no idea that the birth family exists.
The research is clear that children grow best in families, but more than that, in most cases - children are SAFER in families where they are known and cherished. We know that all families are not equal and when a family is abusive or neglectful, a child should be moved to another, safe, permanent and loving family. But we also know that exploitation and abuse are not only much more common in institutional settings, they often go unreported and unaddressed.
That is why the Child Reintegration Centre's Transition Coaching and Mentoring Department is working so hard to help transform orphanages to community centers that provide services to vulnerable families so that children don't need to become separated from family in the first place. Engaging the government and other child welfare NGOS, the TCM advocates for family-based care solutions for all children, so that no child has to grow up in an orphanage without a family to love and protect them. The skilled social workers on the staff of the CRC carefully trace each child's entire family, making the best choice for where that child should be placed, and then they walk alongside the family to help them strengthen the healthy bonds of attachment between them. Workshops provided by CRC staff give caregivers the chance to learn how to manage their money better, and a chance to earn a microloan they can use to become more financially independent.
To find out more about how HCW and the CRC are ensuring a Strong Family for Every Child, and how you can get involved - visit our website.
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