Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC), Chair of the Subcommittee on Children and Families, and Marco Rubio (R-FL) today introduced the bipartisan Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act, a bill to combat sex and labor trafficking in child welfare systems by providing employees with tools to identify, document, educate and counsel child victims. A companion bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Thomas Marino (R-PA).
Recent research reveals that more than 100,000 children are involved in the sex trade in the United States, many of whom may be as young as 11. Approximately 70% of children trafficked have had previous contact with social services, foster care, and child protective and welfare agencies.
“North Carolina consistently ranks among the top 10 states for human trafficking, and sadly, many of the victims are children,” Hagan said. “This bill attacks the issue at its core – helping children who are often most at risk by providing child welfare employees with the tools they need to identify and support victims. I am hopeful that by passing this legislation, we can give more children a shot at the safe and healthy childhood they deserve.”
“Earlier this year, Congress took an important step to combat human trafficking by reauthorizing landmark legislation, but significant gaps remain regarding human trafficking that targets innocents in our child welfare systems,” said Rubio. “While the vast majority of prospective foster and adoptive parents are well intentioned and eager to love these children, sadly, there are those who seek to exploit our children. For children, adoptions and foster care should be a lifeline to a better future, not a path to hell as trafficking victims.”
The legislation also improves identification and reporting requirements for child welfare agencies, requiring states to report to the Department of Health and Human Services the number of trafficking victims in their child welfare systems as well as their current procedures and policies to combat the problem. Victims would also need to be reported to law enforcement agencies and then entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, which helps law enforcement nationwide locate missing children and apprehend criminal offenders.
“One of the greatest challenges in combatting child trafficking is the lack of reliable data on which to base law enforcement or policy responses,” added Hagan. “Increased data collection will provide more accurate statistics on the number of children trafficked and ensure that law enforcement and policymakers can better address the problem.”
The FBI has ranked North Carolina among the top 10 states most susceptible to human trafficking based on the state’s multiple interstate highways, ports and large military bases. The state is also ranked among the top 10 by the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which tracks the number of calls and tips it receives from trafficking victims and witnesses.
The Congressional Budget Office has indicated that the legislation has no direct cost. The bill is supported by the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), the Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), Shared Hope International and the Polaris Project.