Like most things in Washington, the annual release of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report was a good news/bad news story. On the positive front, Acting Director Kari Johnstone of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, appears to be a straight shooter. In past years, the annual Trafficking in Persons report has been subject to accusations of political influence. Countries that are of obvious interest to US diplomatic efforts appeared to be rated a bit better than circumstances on the ground warranted. So there was a lot of trepidation concerning the 2018 report -- the first organized by the Trump administration. Advocates feared that countries like Russia, whose leadership has been praised by the President, might get a softer rating than deserved. This was not the case. Russia remained listed as one of the egregious jurisdictions for human trafficking, joining the likes of Burma and North Korea.
Additional good news could be found in continental progress. Africa, which has been cited in previous reports for profound difficulties in both labor and sex trafficking, saw the greatest improvement. More than a quarter of the nations that were reported to have improved status in the trafficking report were found in Africa. Ghana in particular was singled out, and a representative program in Ghana received a “trafficking heroes” award at the ceremony. This elevated status in the State Department’s TIP report correlates with increased efforts by ECPAT International to find African partners to join our network, an effort that has met with real success.
But we cannot let the TIP report pass by without acknowledging an important oversight. In addition to analyzing the anti-trafficking programs of nearly every nation in the world, the TIP report also has a section devoted to the efforts of our own government. The theme of this year’s report is “Effective ways that local communities can address human trafficking proactively and how national governments can support and empower them” or more pithily described at the report rollout as “local solutions to a global problem.”
However, one vitally important approach to preventing child sex trafficking, and child sexual exploitation generally, is the education of children. Disturbingly, the US section of the TIP report fails to mention this approach at all. The State Department’s omission highlights two concerns for ECPAT USA. First, education policy and curricula in the United States is decentralized and localized. In short, it is exactly the kind of “local solution to a global problem” that the State Department sought to highlight. However, that decentralization and localization makes identifying best practices very difficult and time consuming. Individual school districts across the country are beginning to consider the problem of human trafficking and how to best inoculate their students to the danger. However, while a wide variety of curricula exist, there has been no effort to create a central repository where education policy makers might turn to evaluate the sort of approach that might work best for their school district.
Secondly, the TIP report’s neglect of child education emphasizes that the U.S. Department of Education is woefully absent from the national effort to combat trafficking. The Departments of Justice and State have always been at the forefront of Federal anti-trafficking efforts, but other agencies have also stepped up, like the Department of Homeland Security, and more recently the Department of Transportation. Meanwhile, one of the most fundamental tools in the Federal toolbox goes unutilized because there is effectively no element of the Department of Education tasked with confronting human trafficking.
At ECPAT-USA, we are making the education of children a central part of our work. Because studies show that children in their teens consult with their peers, we seek to arm middle school and high school students with the facts about child trafficking. The aim of this outreach is to assist children in protecting themselves, and aiding them in talking to their friends and peers. Currently, ECPAT has a successful educational outreach program with three distinct workshops in New York City Schools. Additionally, we have the Youth Against Child Trafficking (Y-ACT) program that empowers school children to take the lead in local anti-trafficking efforts. We have found that kids themselves make the most effective advocates in their communities, providing facts about risks and addressing the misconceptions around child sexual exploitation.
So we will continue our work with the U.S. State Department and the Federal Government to emphasize that education is the key to trafficking prevention. And beyond that advocacy mission, we will continue our work with local educators to help train as many kids as we can to avoid the risks of people seeking to exploit them.
Banner image and gallery: 2018 TIP Report