Trafficking in Children

Trafficking in Children


What is trafficking in children?

Trafficking of children, which includes any person under the age of 18, is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation, even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in the definition of trafficking in persons

Are all victims of child trafficking victims of sexual exploitation?

No. Like all people, children may be trafficked for sexual exploitation or forced labor. Recent estimates on modern slavery suggest forced labor (in industries such as domestic work, mining, apparel, or agriculture) far outweighs cases of sexual exploitation by a 3 to 1 margin.

1 in 5 cases of commercial sexual exploitation involve children

The ILO and Walk Free estimate that there are 4.8 million people in forced sexual exploitation worldwide, approximately 21% of which, or nearly 1 million, are children under the age of 18. They also estimate that 99% of all forced sexual exploitation is of women and girls.

As a part of our Evidence for Action framework, GFEMS is generating data on CSEC to better inform policies and programs to protect children and end modern slavery.

Evidence for Action

What do we know? 

In the US, evidence tells us that most children are trafficked by someone they know– including members of their own family. Most child traffickers operate by building trust with victims, and manipulating them into sexual exploitation.

Not every child is equally vulnerable to trafficking risks. Children who have been abused or faced trauma, are in unstable living situations including poverty, or who live in families battling addiction are known to be at higher risk.


Recently, there have been many online rumors and claims about child trafficking against major online retailers, celebrities and politicians, and other organized groups. These claims are false.

There is no evidence that supports these rumors. Furthermore, spreading or sharing these rumors is actually harmful to real victims of trafficking and efforts to rescue them.

Even if some of the rumors aren’t true, isn’t it good that more people are aware of human trafficking?


Anti-trafficking organizations take every report of trafficking seriously, but duplicative and unverifiable reports based on rumor misdirect time for anti-trafficking organizations, causing real victims and survivors to miss out on opportunities to seek help. These rumors have caused long-standing anti-trafficking organizations to waste valuable time and resources fighting misinformation instead of focusing on responding to genuine trafficking issues.

For the public, these rumors create vulnerability for children as misinformed adults spend time focused on unlikely risks (e.g. kidnapping by strangers), instead of recognizing where real threats of exploitation are likely to occur.

How can I tell what is a real case of trafficking and what is not?


There are many resources available to help you learn the signs of trafficking. Although most victims of trafficking are kept isolated by their traffickers, there are patterns or habits that can be identified.

Using these guidelines, you can learn to spot the signs of trafficking in different industries or circumstances like hospitality, agriculture, transportation, and healthcare.

More on Modern Slavery

Modern slavery is a complex issue full of nuances and specific language. Want to learn more? Here are a few of our short guides.