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U.S. Human Trafficking Report Scraps Child Separation Warning

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks on the release of the 2019 Trafficking in Persons report at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., June 20, 2019. (Ron Przysucha/State Department)

This year’s annual State Department report on human trafficking around the world eliminated a section that appeared in last year’s report warning that children who have been separated from their parents are vulnerable to traffickers.

“The physical and psychological effects of staying in residential institutions, combined with societal isolation and often subpar regulatory oversight by governments, place these children in situations of heightened vulnerability to human trafficking,” the 2018 report read.

The 2019 report cut that passage and did not refer to the Trump administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” immigration policy that resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents indefinitely at the southern border as the adults were prosecuted. The administration retired the hardline policy in June of last year.

The report also demoted Saudi Arabia and Cuba to Tier 3, the lowest ranking a country can be given, for failing to meet minimum U.S. requirements to combat human trafficking. The designation can have implications for whether a country is eligible for certain types of aid from the U.S.

In his remarks on the report Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not mention the demotion of Saudi Arabia, an close U.S. ally the Trump administration has worked to preserve a relationship with amid tensions with Iran.

“Government leaders can prioritize investigating and prosecuting labor and sex trafficking cases wherever they occur,” Pompeo said. “We encourage other governments to seek survivor input and apply trauma-informed approaches to hold traffickers accountable and care for survivors.”

The secretary also rejected a recommendation by John Cotton Richmond, the ambassador-at-large who directed the report’s drafting, that Saudi Arabia be included in a list of countries that use child soldiers, despite findings that Saudi-backed forces used child soldiers in Yemen.

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