Child trafficking is a form of slavery in which children are bought and sold for purposes of commercial exploitation. It is most often used to fuel prostitution rings and create child slave labor, though may also include the coercion of children into armies as a form of child trafficking. Human rights activists, the United Nations, and many governments decry child trafficking as one of the worst and most dangerous human rights violations; some nations, such as the United States, have an active program of monitoring trafficking and working with other nations to reduce the slave trade in minors.
According the United Nations, child trafficking is an enormous industry that may involve more than one million children and generate tens of billions of US dollars (USD) per year. Most of the children involved come from developing nations, with the largest proportion believed to be from southeast Asia. Trafficking often occurs across international lines, but can include internal trafficking as well. The use of child soldiers and child labor in sweatshops is often an internal issue.
One of the most polarizing factors in the whole issue of child trafficking is that children are often sold into slavery by their parents. This issue is confusing for many, who cannot understand any parent choosing to give a child up to such heinous conditions. Unfortunately, many destitute families in developing nations believe that their children are actually being given opportunities for a better life through the promise of work, food, and money. Minors are also sometimes deceived into slavery in return for smuggling them across the border to a more affluent country. This connection between extreme poverty and child trafficking is seen to be one of the keys to improving the issue.
Industrialized nations often provide the demand for child slaves for a variety of reasons. Children trafficked to wealthier nations are often sold into prostitution, made to become child brides, forced into domestic servitude, or sent to work in factories or fields. There is also a significant black market in illegal adoptions, where kidnapped or stolen children are sold to people who cannot or do not want to go through traditional adoption routes.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the damage caused by child trafficking is catastrophic. Children are frequently subjected to sexual and physical abuse, lose all contact with family members and a stable environment, receive little or no education, and may suffer serious health problems and a high risk of early death. Since the trafficking industry crosses so many borders, it is difficult to prosecute efficiently; in addition, some nations quietly permit the practice in order to enjoy the economic benefits. Like a hydra, child trafficking seems to be an issue that must be fought on dozens of fronts at once to make any progress at all, but many human rights experts consider this issue a fundamental fight that is the responsibility of all global citizens.