New Study Assists Pediatricians With Identifying Trafficked Children

Human trafficking is currently affecting millions of children across the globe. Some pediatricians may come across trafficked children without knowing, and a new study aims to assist these health professionals with identifying potential victims.

Key takeaways:
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    The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study on Monday aiding child health providers in awareness of patients who are victims of child trafficking.
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    Child trafficking is a major issue across the globe, with over half of victims being sexually exploited.
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    Pediatric providers can take certain steps to make trafficking victims feel safe in the care room.

Child exploitation is an ongoing crisis that The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is eyeing to assist. A new study offers guidance aimed at helping health professionals identify children who are currently being exploited and create a welcoming atmosphere for those that have been trafficked in the past.

The study released on Monday emphasizes that many children seeking pediatric care are also being exploited by sex and labor traffickers.

Human trafficking is a crime where a person is pressurized to provide labor services or to be involved in sexual acts. In the United States, there are an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 victims trafficked into the country annually. The number of people prosecuted in the U.S. for human trafficking has increased by 84% (729 to 1,343) from 2011 to 2020.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), there were 27.5 million people forced into labor — a majority occurring in the Asia and Pacific region along with the Arab States. The ILO states 12% of forced labor is children, with more than half placed into sexual commercialization. This is despite 175 nations across the world taking part in the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, an initiative that defines human trafficking and contains obligations to prevent and combat it.

"During COVID-related lockdowns and travel restrictions, children and families were isolated and many suffered income loss, which can increase their vulnerability to exploiters and traffickers,... The AAP advises that all pediatric care providers and staff adopt a trauma-informed, culturally responsive approach without judgment or pressure in working with this vulnerable population."

Dr. Greenbaum

In a conversation from an AAP press release, Jordan Greenbaum, M.D., lead author of the report, says that COVID-19 impacted child trafficking.

How does child trafficking happen?

Child trafficking occurs via recruitment by transporting a minor for the purpose of labor or sexual commercial acts. As mentioned, a majority of children held hostage are due to child sex trafficking. No certain region, race, or class is safe from the potential of being trafficked.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) says technological advancements have made child sex trafficking a global phenomenon, giving traffickers the opportunity to expose victims to severe dangers. The DOJ highlights that in the U.S., many victims are street children or runaways from low-income families. They are often persuaded by traffickers or “pimps” through money, food, clothes, and attention — creating a bond of trust between the victim and aggressor.

Caring for trafficked patients

There are a variety of factors when it comes to trafficked patients. Many are able to access care, while others have significant factors prohibiting them from receiving care, including lack of transportation, deportation fears, no identification, and shame.

When coming across a patient who is a victim of exploitation, the AAP lists possible “red flags” to look out for. Warning signs within the initial meeting between a child and health care provider include the child being accompanied by a parent who is not a relative, or a parent refusing to let a child speak. Other “red flags” may appear in evidence of inflicted injury, physical findings including malnutrition, and historical factors featuring terminated pregnancies.

The key for the caregiver is to make the child feel comfortable by displaying kindness and will to help. It is recommended to isolate the child from the companion to build a rapport personally by asking questions and showing good listening skills for the patient. Conducting numerous tests for different mental health diseases or sexual diseases can give great insight to see how the patient has been traumatized.

"Physicians can play a vital role in offering critical services to vulnerable and exploited children and adolescents,... An important first step is to develop trusting, respectful relationships with patients who need to feel safe and supported."

Dr. Greenbaum

Dr. Greenbaum believes the advice found in the AAP study for caregivers can have a massive impact on trafficked children.

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