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A Look-Back At Issues Of Child Safety And Protection In 2021

December 23, 2021

By a Biometrica staffer

At Biometrica, the safety of children has always been a priority. This year, amidst general chaos and anxiety, the safety of children took center stage like never before. Here are some of the relevant issues and news stories we covered this year:

This year, amidst a general increase in homicides and gun violence, an analysis from the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) found that gun violence has increasingly been killing more young children and teenagers in the country. Experts chalked this up to idleness caused by the pandemic and easier access to firearms, meaning that disputes too often ended with gunfire.

A separate report also found that although child sex abuse material (CSAM) production cases account for only a small percent of the total federal caseload, in recent years sentencing for such crimes has increased quite significantly.

Increasingly, and especially with the disappearance and death of Gabby Petito, there have been calls to focus on non-white women and girls who go missing. For instance, children of color made up more than 40% of all missing person reports in the U.S. in 2019.

In April, we wrote about the worrying epidemic of child marriages in the U.S., captured in this statistic from a report published by the organization Unchained At Last: Nearly 300,000 American minors under the age of 18 got legally married between 2000 and 2018. In addition, around 60,000 of the marriages over that period occurred at an age or had a spousal age difference that should have been considered a sex crime.

In June, a UN study found that as of the start of 2020, there were roughly one in ten children globally — amounting to 160 million young individuals — involved in child labor. It was the first time that figure had spiked in 20 years and raised concerns about a potential worsening of the situation as a result of the pandemic.

Another issue that emerged over this summer was that of North America’s historical treatment of Indigenous Children in boarding schools. This reckoning was prompted in large part by the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves near former residential schools in several Canadian cities. It prompted the Department of the Interior to launch a new initiative to undertake a “comprehensive review of the troubled legacy of [U.S.] federal boarding school policies.”

In regards to Indigenous children, we also took a look at the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978, which has been in the news lately. The ICWA was enacted to better protect Native children and preserve Native communities, families, heritage, and cultures, by regulating adoption rules.

Unsurprisingly, 2021 remained the year of Covid-19, as the pandemic’s far-reaching consequences began to come to light, even when it came to child safety. One such issue was the fact that human traffickers, much like the rest of the world, moved their criminal exploitation more online, using the internet to target and traffic children. Further, the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime declared that women, children, and migrants were the most vulnerable to being trafficked in the pandemic era.

In addition, a joint study from several international organizations found that an estimated 1.5 million children globally were left without caregivers as a result of the virus in the first 14 months of the pandemic. Over a million of these children lost their primary caregivers. The U.S. was one of the most affected countries in this regard, with around 140,000 American children experiencing the death of a primary or secondary caregiver.

As a result of the pandemic, the mental health of children has suffered, a report found earlier this year. In general, children reported a rise in symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as behavior often linked to criminality and violence, like rates of impulsivity and irritability.

Another niche side-effect of Covid-19 was an astonishingly high number of children who were left alone in cars then being abducted in the course of vehicle theft. The National Center For Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) said it had sent out, on average, only around seven AMBER Alerts for such situations per year over the previous decade. In the one year since the start of the pandemic, however, they had sent out 40 such alerts.

You can find an overview of some common misconceptions about the true nature of the online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) or child sexual abuse material (CSAM) here:

Jan Edwards, CEO of Paving the Way Foundation, wrote about how individuals can protect children and disrupt the cycle of exploitation for Biometrica in June.

We also took a deep dive into the fascinating ways in which the FBI handles cases of missing children, even ones in which the investigative trail has gone cold:

We have also written on how to protect children’s data online, in a bid to boost their safety and further shield them from being trafficked or exploited via the internet:

You can find an explanation of the CREEPER Act and the movement to ban sex dolls and sex robots that look like children here:

In October, we wrote about the gaps in the child welfare system that leads to widespread abuse of children:

We also covered the effect of Covid-19 on that welfare system:

To learn more about how to prevent your children from buying drugs online, you can refer to our piece here:

Read about the 2003 PROTECT Act and how it helps safeguard children from sexual exploitation here:

Just last month, we wrote about the laws around mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse:

Gun storage laws became a central topic of conversation following the deadly school shooting in Oxford, Michigan, on Nov. 20. You can find an overview of such laws here:

Read more about Child Access Prevention Laws and how they can help curb the effects of gun violence on children here:

Read about how the DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention works to curb youth violence, which is on the rise:

In October we put together a list of tips from experts on how adults can recognize the warning signs of a potential school shooter:

Runaways and homeless youth have always been among the demographics most vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking, as we wrote a few months ago:

Read more about the age of consent, statutory rape, and “Romeo and Juliet” laws here:

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