New Study Details How Pediatricians Can Identify Trafficked Children

The American Academy of Pediatrics updated a clinical report last week about assisting pediatricians with identifying children and teens subjected to human trafficking.

The Council on Child Abuse and Neglect and Council on Immigrant Child and Family Health published the “Exploitation, Labor and Sex Trafficking of Children and Adolescents: Health Care Needs of Patients” report which lists potential “red flags” while discussing screening tools and providing detailed information for evaluation and aftercare.

Jordan Greenbaum, MD, lead author of the report, said in a news release that COVID-related lockdowns and travel restrictions increased children’s vulnerability to exploitation and traffickers amid many families experiencing income loss.

“What is especially challenging for healthcare professionals is that individuals experiencing trafficking or exploitation may not perceive themselves as being exploited or may be reluctant to disclose their situation to medical staff,” Dr. Greenbaum said. “This makes it difficult to recognize children and adolescents in need.”

Such red flags physicians should look for include a guardian who is not a relative or a parent refusing to let a child speak accompanying the child. Others may show signs of inflicted injury, malnutrition, and a history of abortions.

Dr. Greenbaum said the American Academy of Pediatrics, which covers some 67,000 members, 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.

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

Nearly 5 million children worldwide experienced forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation in 2021, according to the news release.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) reported by Health News more than 27.5 million people were forced into labor, with the majority happening in the Asia and Pacific region and the Arab States. Of the millions forced into labor, 12% included children, with over half placed into sex trafficking.

Health News reported U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials said traffickers use technological advancements, which expose victims to severe dangers — many of whom are children runaways from low-income families that have created a bond with their aggressor after being persuaded with money, food, clothes, and attention.

Health News further noted an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 victims trafficked into the United States annually, while the number of people prosecuted in the U.S. for human trafficking has increased by 84% (729 to 1,343) from 2011 to 2020.

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