The Trump State Department released a global trafficking report Thursday that admonishes foreign governments not to institutionalize children caught up in smuggling—an awkward do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do moment as the U.S. government continues to detain thousands of migrant children taken from their families trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Removal of a child from the family should only be considered as a temporary, last resort,” the annually produced State Department study states. “Studies have found that both private and government-run residential institutions for children, or places such as orphanages and psychiatric wards that do not offer a family-based setting, cannot replicate the emotional companionship and attention found in family environments that are prerequisites to healthy cognitive development.”
The report went on to lament that “about 8 million children worldwide live in these facilities, even though 80 to 90 percent of them have at least one living parent.”
That stands in stark contrast to Trump administration policy at the U.S. border, specifically the prosecution of hundreds of migrant families trying to enter in the past several weeks, and separation from their children.
That portion of the report left a senior State Department official briefing reporters awkwardly referring reporters to Homeland Security and Health and Human Services for comment.
The official also declined to comment on President Donald Trump’s recent remarks, claiming that smuggling of children and women is the worst it’s ever been.
“Our report focuses on human trafficking, which is a crime of exploitation against the individual,” the official said, speaking anonymously as a condition of the briefing. “Smuggling is a crime against a state… Our work focuses on the exploitation, not smuggling.” The official referred further questions on the matter to Homeland Security.
“We do note in the report that when there are issues that come up…whether they are unaccompanied or children that are placed in institutional facilities that there needs to be screening in place and we do have those mechanisms in place with our colleagues...that screen for trafficking when they cross the border unaccompanied or are separated from their parents,” the official said.
First published in 2001, the report covers efforts to combat trafficking, or lack thereof, in 187 countries. This year, Japan moved up a ranking for its stepped-up efforts to fight trafficking while Myanmar was downgraded to the worst rating—Tier 3—for its failure to improve.
“In Southeast Asia, Burma’s armed forces and others in the Rakhine State dislocated hundreds of thousands of Rohingya and members of other ethnic groups, many of whom were exploited through the region as a result,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a ceremony to launch the report. “Some in the Burmese military also recruited child soldiers and subjected adults and children from ethnic minority groups to forced labor.” The report also added Iran, Iraq and Niger to the list of countries that use child soldiers.
Pompeo also took North Korea to task, just ahead of expected talks on denuclearization following the Singapore summit between the U.S. and North Korean leaders.
“Untold number of North Korean citizens are subjected to forced labor overseas by their own government, in many cases with the tacit approval of host governments,” he said.
His final riposte was aimed at Iran, which he said punishes trafficking victims, even sentencing them to death for committing adultery, for acts they are forced to commit.