On September 14th, 2023, The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations held a hearing to assess the measures in place that protect vulnerable populations from human trafficking and to understand actions that should be taken by Congress to end human trafficking and the exploitation of children worldwide.
Chairman of the Subcommittee, Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ) gave an opening statement in which he pointed to previous legislation that has combated human trafficking in the US and worldwide, and the need for more to address the issue. Rep. Smith describes the most vulnerable populations for trafficking as children who have been internally displaced, migrants, and refugees. 27 million people are enslaved in forced labor or sexual trafficking, with one-third of that group being children. Smith discussed Megan’s Law, the federal law requiring authorities to make information about sex offenders available to the public. There are goals for an international law, that would require all countries to announce when sex offenders are traveling outside of their countries to hopefully combat sex tourism and trafficking.
In her opening statement, Ranking Member Susan Wild (D-PA), discussed the need for diplomacy and partnership to address child trafficking. Tim Ballard, Senior Adviser for the SPEAR fund, Jeanne Celestine Lakin, Survivor-Expert, and Jennifer Podkul, the Vice President of Policy and Advocacy Kids in Need of Defense, provided testimonies on the prevalence of child labor and sex trafficking occurring within the U.S. and at its borders. Ballard and Podkul discussed unaccompanied minors at the border and upon arrival how they are sent to a sponsor family, then often never contacted nor heard from again. They agreed that more screening must be done at the border to identify trafficking, improvements need to be made for the processing program of children that need to be relocated, sponsor families need to receive more thorough background checks, agencies need to keep in contact with children after their relocation, and there needs to be more resources in place to address trafficking as a whole. Meanwhile, the House Labor-HHS Appropriations bill slashes funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement Unaccompanied Children Program by 60%.
There is consensus that addressing global child trafficking will require many resources to be placed in foreign and domestic policy. The House has goals to address child trafficking in the US and abroad by focusing on addressing forced labor in the US supply chain, holding government agencies accountable, and safeguarding vulnerable children. Current proposed legislation in the House looks to enforce border security, provide longer sentences for convicted traffickers, and penalize agencies that do not report on the welfare and whereabouts of relocated children.
By Harper Dilley, Policy Intern