Many of us have started moving on from the pandemic. We’re at the two-year mark now, cases are dropping, and we’ve started living our normal lives again.
But for so many, this return to normalcy is impossible. Human trafficking spiked during the pandemic, as did the sheer number of those vulnerable to traffickers. And hundreds of thousands of these newly-vulnerable people all over the world are just children.
Nearly one-quarter of the world’s 40.3 million trafficking victims are already children, and that number is now poised to grow — fast. So how are we supposed to respond, especially in the face of such a desperate and seemingly intractable problem?
It’s common to focus on developing resources intended to save human trafficking victims, identify them when they are being trafficked or help them heal once they’ve escaped from their trafficker.
It is both noble and essential to raise awareness about human trafficking; however, to fully address the issue, we must look at the root causes of trafficking.
Some of the most vulnerable children among us are those awaiting adoption. Statistics tell us 60 percent of child trafficking victims have spent time in the foster care or child welfare system. These children are vastly more likely to fall victim if they age out of the foster care system without having achieved permanence through adoption or restoration of their family. If we want to begin preventing human trafficking, we must work to get older children adopted.
Children in this position internationally often leave their orphanages once they “age out” with the equivalent of $20 and the clothes on their back. The age of these children varies — in Ukraine and Russia, it’s 16 and in China, it can be as young as 14. Regardless, these children are young and vastly unprepared for the daunting challenges of the world ahead.
Developmentally, institutionalized children are typically years behind their peers. Because they have no family or friends, they are left to the mercy of the first person to offer help or shelter. Unfortunately, in many cases, that’s a human trafficker who poses as a bastion of help.
This tragedy can and should be avoided, but it will take work and strategy that many times will be messy and difficult.
We have committed our lives and hearts personally to serving these children at Lifeline Children’s Services because we feel called to reach the forgotten, abandoned, suffering, homeless and lonely.
In the past 10 years, older-child adoption has risen dramatically.
While this is a great start, it’s still not enough. In the United States alone, tens of thousands of children continue to age out of foster care without anyone to call family, and this is to say nothing of the tens of thousands who age-out daily around the world.
The sheer number of vulnerable children is staggering; however, the challenges each individual child is likely to face is staggering. Human trafficking isn’t the only challenge these children will encounter when they age out of the child welfare system.
Nearly half of those who age out of the American foster care system experience homelessness before age 26, and 18 percent will go to jail. These young adults struggle with un- or underemployment. They struggle with drug use and low odds of completing a high school education, let alone graduating college. Seven out of 10 girls who age out of the foster care system will become pregnant before age 21.
But these kids, whether they’re born here or abroad, are more than statistics. They’re more than the circumstances of their childhood. They’re more than the challenges they face.
They’re children of God, made in His image. They are irreplaceable, and undeniable sources of joy and love for those who adopt them.
Many times, adoption is messy, difficult, and abundantly hard, yet it also brings immense joy to see the life of a child changed for eternity.
At Lifeline, we had one adoptive family bring home a sibling group from Bulgaria. We helped and coached them as they struggled through counseling, therapy sessions and family integration for many years.
And one day, the daughter left a letter on her parents’ bed. “I love you, mom,” she wrote.
She loved and was loved. She was safe. She knew God, and she was held by Him.
Simple stories like this are what makes the labor a joy and not a burden. This is why we call with confidence and joy for others to join us in our work.
Older children need us, and we need them. Our intervention through adoption, mentoring, and family reunification literally rescues children from human trafficking, but more importantly, it bears direct witness of God’s ove in action — both as adopter and adoptee.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/PIKSEL
Herbie Newell is the President and Executive Director of Lifeline Children’s Services, the largest Evangelical Christian adoption agency in America, host of The Defender Podcast and author of “Image Bearers: Shifting from Pro-birth to Pro-Life.”