From my childhood, I have distinct memories of the hot lunch program at school. In particular, it was a treat to be able to get hot lunch on special days. On St. Patrick’s Day, we had green-colored applesauce and chicken nuggets!
Most days, I appreciated the nutritious meals my mom lovingly packed, but sometimes, I would glance longingly from my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich (the fourth of the week) to the line of students getting hot lunch.
It has been a long time since I’ve thought about green applesauce. But, this brief moment from my childhood came to mind while reflecting on my visit to a World Vision program in the capital of Romania.
In the poorest area of Bucharest (also known as Sector 5), World Vision is working with the local government to provide hot meals and after-school programming for children, like tutoring and psychosocial support. The program started because of growing concern about the school dropout rate and the increased vulnerability of children due to poverty and lack of access to social services.
Romania has experienced deep social service cuts in the past few years, and the unemployment rate has increased because of the global economic crisis. In Sector 5, provision of basic needs, like food, is difficult for many families.
For example, George is 5 years old but is not able to attend kindergarten because his family cannot afford meals. The inability to cope with the rising prices of food amidst unemployment is not only a risk for malnutrition — it can also affect a child’s ability to attend school and develop socially. These factors can exacerbate marginalization and increase vulnerability to child labor and trafficking.
In Romania, social workers are few, and the social safety net that protects children from abuse, exploitation, and violence can be weak. Education and after-school programs can be an opportunity to ensure the well-being of a child and connect them and their family to other services. George’s older sister, Andreea, is enrolled in the after-school program, which is open to students ages 6 to 11. Next year, George will be able to join Andreea after school.
Exploitation of children, like child labor or trafficking, does not occur in isolation. Exploitation can be addressed by strengthening the safety net that protects a child. When children are able to participate fully in their community because they are healthy, when they are able to attend school and learn, and when they are able to access basic services, they are better protected.
One of the most comprehensive tools the United States has to work toward a stronger safety net for every child is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). The TVPA is the cornerstone of all U.S. law addressing human trafficking and modern-day slavery. It ensures that the United States is able to prosecute traffickers, protect survivors, and prevent modern-day slavery.
The TVPRA expired last October, almost eight months ago and we are still without renewed legislation. The U.S. Congress failed to pass a reauthorization by September of last year and the U.S. fight against human trafficking is still on hold. The current senate version of the legislation (S.1301) includes important tools, such as the Child Protection Compact Act, which would allow the United States to partner with countries to strengthen the safety net around children and increase the partner country’s technical capacity to respond to human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
This legislation is too important to be sidelined by inaction. Congress must act.
Contact your senators. Use our call form to determine if you senators have already cosponsored, look up their numbers, and log your call. We also provide the call script in this tool. The message is short and simple: Pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.