A reader sent me this story, which I might have missed because it actually doesn’t use any of the scary words we are getting used to: sex trafficking, exploitation, prostituted children. Here instead we hear about runaways, and children taken away by parents, and children safely returned, and low figures for ‘kidnapping’. I like to think both reporter and editor consciously resisted using trafficking in this headline: after all, they could have written Study Undermines Trafficking Fears.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child establishes 18 as the magic moment for becoming adult, thereby reducing teenagers to children who are supposed to be innocent and happy. But teenagers do leave home all over the world, and sometimes they are running away from something bad and it makes sense to run. Runaways can get into trouble, as a Nevada public radio programme discussed last November, in the wake of an FBI scare initiative with the dumb name Innocence Lost. But sensible people know that adolescence is not the same as childhood and that childhood means different things in different places and times – in terms of the right to work, marry, vote, join the military, drink and have sex. As for selling sex, stories about Poland’s piggies and mall girls and Japan’s compensated dating (enjo kosai) show how conventional that can be amongst teenagers. I can hear some people now saying, no but we are talking about real trafficking, like in West Africa. Well, researchers on supposed child trafficking there have questioned it, too.
This story from The Wall Street Journal should calm a lot of people’s worst fears: few children are abducted / kidnapped / shanghaied / trafficked.
By Sean Gardiner, 7 April 2011, The Wall Street Journal
The fear that a child could be snatched away by a stranger nags at many parents. But a new report examining cases from last year shows that in New York, it is extraordinarily rare for children to be taken by someone they don’t know. The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services said Wednesday that 20,309 children were reported missing statewide last year. Just one of them was confirmed to have been abducted by a stranger, the agency reported. The vast majority of the missing children—almost 94% of last year’s total—were runaways. Most of them were teenagers.
The state maintains the Missing and Exploited Children Clearinghouse, a database tracking lost children since 1987. While stranger abductions raise alarm, they are uncommon. A spokeswoman for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children said a 2002 Department of Justice study, the most recent national numbers available, showed that of approximately 797,500 children reported missing over the course of a year, 115 were kidnapped by strangers.
In New York, there were 196 reported cases of child abductions statewide last year, less than 1% of all missing-children reports. Of that number, 188 of the kidnappers were family members, and six were family friends. Two cases involved stranger abductions, the report states. But one of the children, reportedly snatched in Broome County, was at a later point determined to be a runaway, a spokesman for the Division of Criminal Justice Services said Wednesday. In the other case, a 14-year-old girl was taken by a middle-age man in Rochester. She was safely recovered.
“While every parent is understandably and rightfully concerned that their child could be abducted, the fact of the matter is that stranger abductions in New York state are, thankfully, rare occurrences,” said Sean Byrne, the division’s acting commissioner. In 4% of the total number of missing children, or 837 cases, the reason for the disappearance was listed as unknown. . . .
. . . While missing-children reports remained essentially flat statewide from 2009 to 2010, there was a 14% spike in New York City. Reports in the city increased to 6,544 last year—the highest number in a decade—from 5,721 in 2009. Paul Browne, spokesman for the New York Police Department, attributed part the increase to better reporting on the part of he approximately 50 officers who work in the NYPD’s Missing Person’s Unit. Mr. Browne said that 96% of the missing-children cases reported to police were eventually closed, generally because the child returned home.
–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist