Human trafficking comes in many forms. Although it is often associated with sex trafficking to support prostitution rings, human trafficking may occur as labor trafficking through forced labor, bonded labor, and involuntary domestic servitude — all of which equate to modern-day slavery. Adolescents and teenagers may also be victims when they are forced to become child soldiers.
Talking to Children About Human Trafficking
For the sake of safety, children need to know about human trafficking. However, it can be difficult to know how to frame such a heavy topic in the context of a child’s age. Fortunately, “How to Talk About Human Trafficking with Children and Adolescents,” created by Baylor University’s online doctorate of education, provides some key guidance.
Younger children — between ages 2 and 6— require a more general approach, since explicit conversations about human trafficking may be too much. Discussions with this age group can be about the following:
- Respect and care for our bodies. Underscore the fact that our bodies should never be used to get something we want, such as a prize, candy, or a toy.
- Our right to personal space. Make sure children know that if another child or adult makes them feel uncomfortable, they should tell a trusted adult right away.
- Fairness and equity. Emphasize the fact that fairness is a core value that should never be compromised.
- Gender roles and stereotype threat. Help children learn to recognize stereotypes and understand how they affect our relationships and social behaviors.
Older children — between ages 7 and 12 — are equipped with the ability to think abstractly and express themselves more effectively than younger children. They also face a higher likelihood of being exposed to negative news and content online that is violent or inappropriate. For reasons such as these, children in this age group need a safe place to discuss these topics and affirmation that it is the right thing to do. Discussions with this age group can include the following:
- Notions of work. Discuss the difference between work for which a person is fairly paid and forced labor, which may include unfair pay, no pay, and unsafe working conditions.
- Military and branch services. Consider introducing the practice of child soldiering, in which some nations with unfair leaders force children to serve in the military instead of attending school or doing other things that kids normally do at that age.
- Allowance. If a child receives an allowance, this provides an opportunity for discussions about the concept of fair compensation, as well as the fact that some people work for very little money and are treated poorly.
Adolescents — between ages 13 and 18 — are better equipped to discuss complex issues but may not be as willing to open up to a parent as younger children are. Even if this is the case, broaching these topics is essential to a child’s safety. Discussions with this age group can be about the following:
- Sexual education. Emphasize that sexual relationships should always be explicitly consensual and that sexual acts should never be exchanged for money or required to ensure safety.
- Labor and demand. As adolescents learn about economics and international trade, consider including discussions about bonded labor and involuntary domestic servitude.
- Financial literacy and practices. Teach adolescents how to manage their finances to help them avoid desperate and potentially dangerous financial situations in the future.
Although these conversations may be uncomfortable at times, they are important for your child’s safety. The good news is that you don’t need to have all the answers. If you are unsure about how to respond to a question, just be honest by saying that you don’t know — and then do more research to find out.
An important aspect of discussing human trafficking with your children is to teach them how to speak up if they suspect it may be occurring. Reinforce that the first step is to talk to you or another trusted adult — such as an educator — as soon as possible.
If you are concerned about your own child, you can seek support from their school by reaching out to the school counselor. By expressing your concerns, you can take the first step toward keeping your child safe.
For more resources, visit “How to Talk About Human Trafficking with Children and Adolescents.”