When a girl over the age of twelve comes into our care, we assume she has been sexually trafficked or exploited – or at least abused. And we are almost always right. Why?
Because that is what happens to orphans.
These kids are not just at risk. They are at mortal risk. Lives either over or destroyed unless we fix this problem.
And there are 153 million of them.
Let the number sink in. 153 million children. The United States has a total population of about 300 million; 153 million is everyone west of the Mississippi, and a few back on the other side. If it were a country unto itself, The State of Orphans would be the eighth most populous country in the world, larger than Russia or Japan.
Every day as many as 40,000 more children become orphans or are abandoned by their parents, and only 250,000 children are adopted each year.
About as many children become orphans in any one week as are adopted in a year.
Annually, 14 million children age out of the care systems—that is 38,356 orphans aging out every day.
One child every 2.2 seconds.
And what happens to them? This is where the implications get really frightening – not only for the kids, but for society.
Studies have shown that somewhere around 12% of these children will take their own lives before they reach 18. Worldwide, girls who have been orphaned are ten times more likely to sell their bodies to survive than girls in stable families; some studies have the percentages of orphaned girls becoming prostitutes as high as 60%. In Zambia, 50% of all prostitutes are double orphans (no parents) and another quarter are single orphans (only one living biological parent). In New York, 75% of minors who are sexually exploited have spent time in foster care.
As long as we ignore the orphan problem, we are priming the pipeline of the traffickers.
We have to fix this. Now.
Wearing a wristband with the name of a trafficked kid, or posting a hashtag campaign may make you feel better, but it doesn’t change the reality for the 153 million. They are still orphans, still abandoned.
And we are complicit in their ultimate end.
Withelma “T” Ortiz, a young woman who bounced through the U.S. foster care system, described it this way in her testimony before Congress: “For myself, as unfortunate as it is to say, the most consistent relationship I ever had in care was with my pimp and his family.”
Read that sentence again – slowly. The most consistent relationship she ever had in care was with her pimp and his family.
Do you really, really want to do something to stop sex trafficking?
Then let’s roll up our sleeves and start making homes for the 153 million.