.- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called on the Senate to protect children, exploited by human trafficking in the United States.
Calling trafficking "a modern-day form of slavery" and "the largest manifestation of slavery today," Sr. Mary Ellen Dougherty of the Bishops' Office for Migration and Refugee Services urged the action in testimony yesterday before the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights.
The School Sister of Notre Dame testified at a hearing on "Examining U.S. Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery." The subcommittee is headed by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).
"Human beings are being sold into bondage as prostitutes, domestic workers, child laborers and child soldiers," she said.
An estimated 700,000 persons annually are being trafficked worldwide, with about 17,000 in the United States. One-third of the victims in the United States are children.
"We must pay particular attention to child trafficking victims and ensure that they are protected and provided special care," said Sr. Dougherty, expressing her concern that children have âfallen through the cracks of these enforcement efforts."
Since the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, only 34 child victims have been identified within the U.S. and referred to trafficking victimsâ assistance. However, research into trafficking and statistics, gathered by the State Department on worldwide numbers of trafficked kids, point to a much larger number of children than identified, she said.
Sr. Dougherty also outlined principles to be invoked in any decision-making process regarding child victims. She firmly recommended that all children receive immediate safe haven and an assessment of their needs; that efforts for family reunification should be explored as a priority; and that assistance be provided them for legal matters and immigration procedures to remain in the U.S.
Sr. Dougherty's testimony can be found at www.usccb.org