Selling Children in America

Child trafficking is a serious business. The latest 2008 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report confirms that trafficking of children has become a $67 billion annual worldwide business larger than Nike, Starbucks and Google combined.

After weapons and drugs, children have become the third most important commodity to organized crime syndicates the world over, led by the Mexican cartels and closely followed in net annual revenues by the Russian and Ukrainian organized crime mafia.

A 2009 State Department Report confirmed that the United States is now the #1 destination country in the world for trafficked children. The reasons are clear: money and a high demand for underage children to be used for prostitution on "the streets" and online pornography.

Unfortunately, most members of Congress as well as state and local officials aren't aware of this. I recently met with U.S. Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to discuss the severity of this epidemic. The Honorable Congresswoman who is a renowned workhorse, was shocked at the prevalence of this crime and the rising numbers in the country.

According to the same State Department report, child trafficking is a global epidemic with tentacles that touch every nation at every level from state-run orphanages right up the ladder to the most lucrative global industries including reputable modeling agencies.

Other recent government reports confirm the fiscal success of child trafficking -- that is the supply and demand structure of the global economy -- is such that the risk-reward ratio makes it both highly lucrative as well as nearly impossible to combat, much less eradicate.

Child trafficking in the 21st Century is a nondiscriminatory business: race, age, sex and socioeconomic status make no difference to the trafficker. The challenge remains: lack of awareness, resources and little if any law enforcement training. Local and State police who usually are the first in line of command (to bring the victims into custody), are unaware that a T-Visa exists for all eligible trafficked children.

During a conversation with a former government official who wishes to remain anonymous, the Immigration, Customs Enforcement (ICE) budget, during the Bush administration invested in eradicating child trafficking was a mere $5 million out of a total budget of $800 million. Something is wrong with this picture. Still today, three hundred times more money is spent fighting drug trafficking than child trafficking. So how do we solve this?

In my opinion: Our local and state officials need to rethink strategy, reallocate the budgets and train the ``foot soldiers.'' In the meantime, as my friend and former Customs Enforcement Director Willy von Raab coined, create a "zero tolerance" grassroots campaign in every State by appointing local citizens to manage the small groups of community activists and spread the word to raise awareness across their neighborhoods. Over time and with a clear goal the community activist groups will grow into a nationwide initiative much like "Mothers against Drunk Drivers".

We owe it to our children and our country to protect innocent life. And to those in government who believe in the sanctity of life they should be quick to follow in the footsteps of that once heroic Anglican clergyman John Newton, so that the world's enslaved children can finally be "Free at Last".

CONCHITA SARNOFF, board member, Innocents at Risk, Washington D.C.