Hike in calls to U.S. trafficking helpline shows new forms of abuse

by Sebastien Malo | @SebastienMalo | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 14 March 2018 18:57 GMT

A woman uses her cell phones in Manhattan, New York, U.S., January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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Peddling and begging are one of the three most common forms of forced labor

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK, March 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A rise in the number of calls by human trafficking victims to a U.S. hotline has revealed new types of exploitation, including children forced to sell candy or beg on the street.

The anti-slavery charity Polaris said on Wednesday that calls to its national human trafficking hotline and a text message service increased 13 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year, totaling 8,759 cases.

Most callers sought help when someone was suspected of being sold for sex against their will - some 6,250 calls and texts. Another 1,250 cases were about forced labor.

Bradley Myles, the chief executive of Washington-based Polaris, said the charity had increasingly heard about children "selling candy or other goods out of baskets out on the street ... in major cities" such as New York and Washington.

"We still only have a small handful of cases, but it's an emerging form of labor trafficking," Myles told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Polaris put peddling and begging as one of the three most common forms of forced labor in its assessment of calls it fielded last year, with 109 such cases.

Myles said a positive finding was the growing trend of family members steering their relatives who had been abused by traffickers to seek help by calling the 24-hour helpline.

However, he warned that traffickers might counter families' efforts to free victims by isolating them from their relatives, something that "is a massive issue already".

Polaris's data showed that nearly two in three trafficking victims who spoke about when they had been exploited for labor or sex had become victims when they were minors.

Some 1.5 million people in the United States are victims of trafficking, mostly for sexual exploitation, and most are children, a Senate report published last year said.

Globally, more than 40 million people are victims of human trafficking, according to the International Labour Organization. (Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Robert Carmichael.

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