Washington, DC - Children are vulnerable to a number of abuses, including being forced into labor working long hours often in unsafe and hazardous working conditions, as well as being forced to participate in child soldiering. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) co-hosted a World Day Against Child Labour event June 12 at ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C., to focus attention and help halt practices that force the young into slave labor and as combatants in armed conflicts.

HSI Supervisory Management and Program Analyst Kinyatta Gray led the ceremony, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Program Coordinator for Law, Justice and Society Initiatives Sarah Campbell moderated the event.

ICE Director Sarah Saldaña thanked attendees for being there, and said that “Human rights abuses occur across the world....The idea that a child can be pulled from his or her home and community and into dire circumstances is abominable. Federal agencies can work together to try to save children and adults who are trafficked around the world.”

Lev Kubiak, assistant director for HSI International Operations said that many children are working in hazardous environments, such as mine shafts and manufacturing plants, and some are exposed to dangerous chemicals and abusive employers. He said that ICE partners with law enforcement partners at the international, federal, state and local levels to extend enforcement of existing laws and the protection of children.

“All too often, children are exploited and forced to fight the wars of adults. This destroys their childhood, their opportunities for educational development and sometimes their very lives, said Deputy Assistant Director of FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division Timothy Gallagher. “The work of the FBI and ICE in combating human rights abuses throughout the world allows for a brighter future for all of us, especially the children, who are our future.”

Joe Macias, acting assistant director of HSI’s National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), discussed how counterfeit goods and child labor are intertwined. He said that strong evidence indicates that armed militias who employ child soldiers are partly funded through the pirating of software and the sale of counterfeit goods and that children are often slaving in sweatshops manufacturing counterfeit products. He said that stopping IP theft should lead to less sweatshops and forced child labor and increase health and freedom for affected children. 

A panel of three experts, including Penelope Nelson, an intelligence research specialist from HSI’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center; Prabha Sankaranarayan, president and chief executive officer of Mediators Beyond Borders International and Lakshitha Saji Prelis, director of Children and Youth Programmes at Search for Common Ground, also shared their knowledge and insights. The discussion focused on greater understanding as to how and why children become participants in armed conflicts and how to rehabilitate and reintegrate these children back into their communities and prevent it from happening at all.  

Sankaranarayan said “When we say ‘child labor’ and ‘child soldier’, it seems like we should say ‘child torture,’ because that is what it is.”