“Love you neighbor as yourself.”
We grow up hearing this concept that comes straight from the teachings of the Bible. We believe it, and it may even move our hearts to action. But who are our neighbors?
This month is Human Trafficking Awareness Month so I want to take a moment to consider our closest neighbors and the trafficking risks they may be facing. If you are in the U.S.A. and reading this, your neighbors include Mexicans and Central Americans. You don’t have to go far to meet them. As I’m sure you’ve heard, the violence in Central American’s Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) are sending hundreds of vulnerable children north in search of peace and safety.
The situation is grim in El Salvador for children in high-risk areas. Gang violence claims the lives of thousands of children each year. Girls are forced into prostitution as young as 11 or also fall victim to the rising tide of violence that claims so many lives every day.
Parents make a desperate decision to hand over their child, along with their documents and money, to a coyote who will smuggle them north into the Land of the Free. Some of them may be sold or kidnapped by traffickers along the way. There are countless stories of Central Americans being trafficked in Mexico. Those who get to the U.S., show up vulnerable and alone. Or maybe they make it into the household of a distant relative who really doesn’t know them but has agreed to provide food and shelter. If they have arrived illegally, they do not have the protection of the law that should shield them from child abuse and neglect. If they arrive legally, they will be placed with a legal sponsor.
These children are frightened, scared, far from home, and face a language barrier that keeps their circle of relationships very small. Some children have great success stories, but others face a horrible nightmare.
This week a Salvadoran newspaper, La Prensa Grafica, ran a story about minors who have fled Central America only to be trafficked or abused in the U.S. The cases mentioned in the article include:
- A 14 year old girl from Honduras who was forced to work in bars in Florida where girls are required to drink, dance, and sometimes have sex with clients.
- A 17 year old from Honduras who lived with his aunt in Texas who kept him locked in her house. At night we was forced to work in a restaurant and on the weekends he cleaned houses.
- A 17 year old from Guatemala who was forced to work in a restaurant in Alabama 12 hours a day to pay the rent to live in the home of a friend’s brother.
- A Central American teenager was forced to cook, clean, and take care of other kids in a trailer park in Florida.
- A Guatemalan teenager was abused by their sponsor, and no authorities checked the situation before he was sent to live there.
The reality is that these children are fleeing terrible situations, and some are arriving into new nightmares with no support or way of escape. Sadly, these are not the only stories out there. As we become more aware of human trafficking in our world, let us also become more aware of our neighbors who have fallen victim, and let our hearts be moved to love and action on their behalf.
If you are in the U.S. and suspect a case of Human Trafficking, you can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.