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Child Welfare System Must Work Better to Help Stop Trafficking of Children | Commentary

Last year, the House and Senate introduced identical legislation that aims to strengthen the child welfare response to trafficking. In the House, Reps. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and Tom Marino, R-Pa., introduced HR 1732, which currently has 43 co-sponsors. In the Senate, Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., introduced a companion bill, S 1823. I would like to thank them for their efforts and ask other legislators to join them.

The legislation directs the secretary of Health and Human Services to develop and publish guidelines that will help child welfare agencies serve the at-risk populations they encounter. It also amends the Social Security Act to require a state plan that ensures welfare agencies make efforts to identify and document the trafficking victims they encounter. That plan would require the agency to report their findings within 72 hours to appropriate law enforcement. Finally, it amends the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act so that states would be required to have in place provisions and procedures to help them assess and identify trafficking victims, and provide comprehensive training and services to serve such victims.

I am very pleased the legislation emphasizes providing for two types of trafficking victims — those forced into sex slavery as well as child labor. Each type of victim requires specialized services, and it’s important that people are trained to recognize the signs of trafficking.

I understand all too well that child trafficking is a difficult issue — to acknowledge as well as to address. But affected children deserve our courage and commitment, and it will take action to end the great injustices as well as help those who experience them. I ask all members of Congress to stand up and support this legislation.

Ima Matul is the survivor coordinator for the Coalition To Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.

A previous version of this guest observer misstated the author's organization. It is the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.

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