As the Founder of Trustify, I regularly deal with the crisis of our time: human trafficking. Last year, I was asked to speak on the Human Trafficking panel at the Annual Summit of the Conference of Western Attorneys General on our pro-bono work to help end trafficking. As the former Executive Director of Joint Council on International Children’s Services and former Program Director at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, I worked tirelessly with my colleagues to help with the ratification of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect to Intercountry Adoption (Convention). The Convention sought to bring safeguards to children and families through intercountry adoption, and thus, better protect children from a plethora of dangers including child trafficking.

Children living outside of a permanent, loving family are the most vulnerable to trafficking. In 2017, UNICEF reported that there were over 140 million orphaned children globally. Last year, only 4,714 intercountry adoptions were completed. Domestic adoptions, per country where applicable, are also very small in comparison to the global orphan population. Children living outside of a safe, permanent, loving family are—exponentially—more at risk to be trafficked.  Orphans are regularly enslaved as child soldiers, laborers, or sex slaves. Many females are trafficked as child brides. Children living in institutions are more likely to end up on the streets where they are particularly vulnerable to traffickers. Most countries have a mandatory date by which children age out of the system, without an option for adoption. Most of these children leave the institutions in which they were raised without any safeguards or safety net. Without the option for adoption, these children are the most vulnerable to trafficking.

These trafficking statistics sadly encompass the United States as well. Children living in foster care, without a permanent, loving family are the most susceptible to being trafficked. In 2017, 437,500 children were in the United States foster care system. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, over 88% of the children who are considered “runaways” were under the care of social services. Without the love and protection of a forever family, foster youth (those in and those that age-out or emancipate from the system) are most likely to be vulnerable to trafficking.

Adoption helps to prevent this crisis of our time. By providing children in the United States and abroad with a safe, permanent, loving family through transparent adoptions, they are protected from this atrocity. We must do everything in our power to promote safe, transparent adoptions and educate families on the beauty of building their family through adoption. Every child has a right to a safe, forever family.