Invisible Children

Trafficked Children


Given the surreptitious nature of the hidden markets dealing in children, no one knows for certain how many young people are trafficked each year.  Estimates vary, but conservatively at least 1.2 million boys, girls, young women and young men are trafficked annually for involvement in sex trades. [i]

Trafficking takes various forms.  By definition, trafficking is the commercial trading of humans, most often for the purposes of sexual participation or forced labor.  At its root is the exploitation of vulnerable people for economic reasons, the diminution of complex human beings to a function as simple as trading chips.

Child trafficking is growing in West Africa. Many families in poverty see it as a survival strategy, one that has been employed for years.  In 2001, 35 children were found on a boat in Benin, heading to Gabon to work.  In 2003, 194 malnourished children were rescued from quarries in Nigeria, where at least 13 others had died and been buried in the pits.  In 2005, 64 girls were found inside a refrigerated truck traveling hundreds of miles to work as maids in Lagos.[ii]  And only a tiny fraction of the victims are ever detected.

The Chinese government claims to have rescued 54,000 young boys who were trafficked within the last three years.    They claim that approximately 10,000 children are trafficked each year, but observers place that figure in excess of 70,000, and some consider it much, much higher.[iii]

In Haiti, as many as a quarter million children work as domestic servants, known as restaveks,[1] many having been sold into bondage.  Up to 2,000 children each year fall victim to trafficking and another 3,000 are abandoned to the streets because their families can no longer afford to care for them.[iv] 

It would be convenient to dismiss these numbers as reflective of Haiti’s economic desperation or China’s lack of socioeconomic mobility.  But it would be wrong to do so.  No country escapes the risk of seeing its children bought, sold or kidnapped for commercial purposes.  In the United Kingdom approximately 300 children each year are trafficked, a number which seems to be growing.[v]  The United States, as one of the globe’s two dominant economies, is a major trafficking hub – importing thousands of girls and young women annually from Southeast Asia and Latin America to work in the sex trades, as well as luring thousands of its own young people into the trade through false promises.[vi]


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[1] According to the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, restavek is a Haitian Creole term meaning “to stay with” and refers to a child from a low-income family who is given to another family as a domestic servant.  The parents’ goal is typically to give their child a better future, but restaveks are routinely denied access to education, proper nutrition or adequate living conditions.
[i] http://www.unicef.org/protection/57929_58005.html
[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/29/world/africa/29iht-africa.3317373.html
[iii] http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/26/buy-sell-adopt-child-trafficking-in-china/?_r=0
[iv] http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/haiti_58029.html; and http://ihscslnews.org/view_article.php?id=358
[v] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19984615
[vi] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/300000-children-in-us-sex-industry/

"Invisibility is a lack of hope, a lack of opportunity, and the inability to access the basic elements that define a safe, productive life, including education, health care, housing, food, clean water, sanitation, and security."  - Invisible Children

Demographics of Invisibility