Child trafficking is a global concern, a sub-form of human trafficking that is present to some degree in nearly every country in the world, from the least-developed countries to the most developed. One of the world's leading authorities on human trafficking is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), whose 2022 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons offered insight into the current state of human and child trafficking around the world.
According to the UNODC's 2022 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, which compiled the experiences of 51,675 victims of trafficking in 2020 across 166 countries, approximately 18% of those trafficked were female children and another 17% were male children. In terms of total rates, the report estimates that victims of human trafficking were detected at a global average rate of 1 person per 100,000 in 2020.
However, the report also makes clear that the number of victims detected is substantially lower than the overall rate of trafficked individuals, which is yet unknown. Moreover, the rate of detection is independent of the actual rate of trafficking. This is particularly true in highly developed countries, whose rates of detection are likely much higher due to their more robust law enforcement agencies. By comparison, law enforcement agencies in less-developed countries often operate with fewer resources and less training, which lowers their chances of detecting human trafficking activity.
According to the UNDOC report, 38.8% of all victims of human trafficking detected in 2020 were trafficked for the purpose of forced labor (slavery), which is still prevalent in many parts of the world. Another 38.7% were trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, a significant reduction from the 2019 percentage of 48%. The remaining victims were trafficked in order to be forced into criminal activity (10.2%), forced into marriage (0.9%), forced to beg for money (0.7%), subjected to illegal adoption (0.3%) or organ harvesting (0.2%), or to be exploited in multiple ways (10.3%), such as both sexual exploitation and forced criminality.
The report goes on to point out that the dominant methods of exploitation change drastically depending upon the age of the individual being trafficked. In an analysis of 565 victims across all ages, 79% of victims aged 15-17, 92% of victims aged 18-22, and 84% of victims aged 23-27 were subjected to sexual exploitation.
Child trafficking occurs in most every country on Earth, but tends to be more common in developing countries, where law enforcement agencies have fewer resources and less-forgiving economies can make people more likely to turn to unlawful professions. Countries at war and war-torn countries are also likely to see a rise in child trafficking, as the conflicts leave more children orphaned and vulnerable to trafficking. Finally, the UN report noted that individuals of any age who were currently displaced due to climate change were more likely to become victims of human trafficking.
Regionally, child trafficking is quite common in Africa, particularly West Africa, where nearly all human trafficking victims are children. Child trafficking is also very common in Asia's Mekong region, which includes Cambodia, parts of China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
There are several states in the country where child trafficking is incredibly common. The states with the highest rates of child trafficking include Delaware, California, Missouri, Michigan, and Texas. These are also states that have very high rates of human trafficking, where approximately 3.5 out of every 100,000 people in the state are victims of human trafficking. California had the highest rate of human trafficking, including child trafficking, in the United States in 2019. During this year alone, California had more than 1,500 cases of human trafficking reported.
Child trafficking has many causative factors and thus has no simple solution. That said, one of the best ways to decrease child trafficking is to teach children to be wary and educate them on the warning signs and risks associated with child trafficking, including grooming and extortion. Strong laws against child trafficking are a helpful deterrent, as is a high rate of conviction for those caught trafficking.
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In 2020, the countries that had the most cases discovered of child trafficking were Nepal, Italy, Guatemala, the Philippines, and Peru.