Writes Arhs, Content writer, Headline Diplomat eMagazine
It is often said that education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world. This argument is valid because, over the years, outstanding progress has been made in different areas of human endeavor through education. This can be seen in many incredible inventions, accomplishments, and positive social changes in our world today. Unfortunately, we have not fully used the same weapon to tackle the most heinous crime against children — child trafficking!
Understanding child trafficking
Obviously, child trafficking is a form of modern slavery: children are traded for prostitution, labor, and many other unjust purposes. It is unfortunate that this war on our youngest is still going on in this 21st century. This secret crime remains a multibillion-dollar business and the fastest-growing organized crime in the world. According to data, an estimated 5.5 million children are trafficked around the world. Many of these vulnerable minors, who mostly end up as sex slaves, are usually not aware that they are being trafficked and would not identify as such. This horrible human rights abuse affects all socioeconomic groups and communities: urban, rural, or suburban. Year after year, millions of children are kidnapped by traffickers through the use of violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, and several other coercive means.
How the educational system can help in detecting and fighting child trafficking
Apparently, most of the victims are not just school-aged children but are also active students in various schools. So, the educational system can be used to detect and tackle potential child trafficking cases, and here’s how:
First, the teachers and the school management have a responsibility to educate children about human trafficking in general since schools are meant to promote student health and well-being. They can teach the students what to do when someone makes undue demands from them or tries to lure them with bogus promises.
Second, the educational system can be a channel to identify and connect vulnerable students to support services. Schools should be a place where children, especially the vulnerable and marginalised ones, can be easily identified and protected because they provide the unique opportunity for the children to interact safely with adults they can trust.
Furthermore, the educational system should be able to identify and report any suspected abuse, including that of child trafficking. School personnel can notice dangerous situations and report to the appropriate agencies.
Moreover, victims of sex trafficking often remain in schools despite their traumatic experiences. The experience can affect their capacity to learn and even make them more vulnerable. They need teachers and counselors who have the capacity to help them. The need to have educational professionals in the fight against child trafficking cannot be overemphasised.
Thus, raising awareness among education professionals and teachers about the dangers of child trafficking is of utmost importance. Education professionals should be the front-line professionals in detecting child trafficking. By training and building the core capabilities of school personnel, we will be enhancing our capacity to prevent, identify, and fight this horrible crime and also help the victims.
Unfortunately, we are wide of the mark. So far, we have not adequately involved our educational system in detecting and addressing the challenge of child trafficking, and this has made the crime fester with every passing year. Some countries and organisations have already realised this and involved their educational system in the fight.
Serbia is leading the way
Serbia reported that 102 child victims of trafficking were identified between 2017 and 2020, representing about 50% of the total number of victims identified during that period.
To help fight this scourge, the Serbian Ministry of Education, Science, and Technological Development began the revision of the existing indicators for preliminary identification of children at risk of trafficking by education professionals. For this, the ministry established a working group comprising of anti-trafficking stakeholders, representatives from the management of different ministries and schools, civil society organisations, and teachers. The group aims to provide a plan through which educational personnel is equipped and trained to identify and assist potential victims of child trafficking, creating a workable and updated identification process for Serbia’s educational system.
This applaudable effort — tagged the “Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings in Serbia” — is supported by the European Union/Council of Europe Programme: Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey 2019-2022. Although it would need constant revisions of policies, protocols, and strategies, this anti-trafficking effort in Serbia represents a best-practice example of how collaborations between governments, law enforcement agencies, corporate organizations, education systems, and NGOs can help in the fight against child trafficking by adopting relevant policies.
What we can learn
By involving the educational system and adopting policies aimed at detecting child trafficking, as it’s done in Serbia, school administrators and staff would become aware of the cases of child trafficking in their communities. They would also receive specialised training on the signs of trafficking, how to detect a victim, and the actions to take when they have suspicions. Consequently, school-aged children and students would benefit from the teachers and the educational system in general.
Granted, some systemic, individual, and family risk factors make some students more vulnerable to trafficking than others. But no child must be left to pay for the weakness in our administrative, educational, and political system. It is time we equip our educational system to protect our vulnerable children from trafficking.
Conclusion and recommendations
The global educational system needs to be included in the detection, prevention, and fight against child trafficking. Governments and their agencies, cooperations, and non-governmental organisations have to play their role in seeing that efforts at tackling child trafficking are taken to schools.
We need to adopt the Serbian example: Educational professionals and school staff need to be adequately trained on how to identify and manage trafficking risk factors and indicators. The students should be educated in social and emotional skills, safe dating, and healthy relationships. In fact, there should be a specialised human trafficking curriculum in their classes.
Aside from the roles of government, corporate organizations, and non-governmental organisations, detecting and fighting the epidemic of child trafficking requires everyone’s effort: teachers, bus drivers, administrators, food service staff, and other school community members. We all have to be an advocate for the victims of child trafficking. The school community members must be taught the indicators of this crime and how to respond when a victim is detected. Identified victims should receive adequate support, while the perpetrator is brought to justice.
Our educational system can influence our world. The cost of reaching one student through education is often less than the cost of providing services to a child who has been trafficked. We must involve our educational system in the fight against child trafficking. When we do this, we are not only protecting our children but also preserving all future generations along the way.