It seems that everyone has been quick to play down the journey of three underage travelers who decided on their own to fly from Florida to Tennessee (click here for article). Aviation experts, the airlines and TSA have all said that protocols were not violated. And, they are right — to a point.
However, the issue is not whether current protocols were violated, but whether we have the proper protocols in place. If we did, then this would have been a VERY big deal.
See, unfortunately, a hundred and forty years after slavery was ended in the U.S., it seems there is still a huge problem in the human slave trade. We addressed this in Practical Aviation Security and it is a frequent topic in Aviation Security International magazine. However, human trafficking rarely makes headlines here in the U.S., even though much of the human trafficking takes place here. One of the biggest signs of human trafficking is children traveling alone.
Now, children flying by themselves is not an unusual occurrence. In fact, I frequently flew as an “unaccompanied minor” to visit my grandparents during the summer months when I was growing up and escorted UM’s around the old Stapleton airport when I worked there. However, there are protocols in place for handling a “UM.” There is paperwork the parents must fill out, then they are escorted to the gate by their parents or guardian, where they are positively handed over to a specific adult flight attendant, who is responsible for ensuring the child or children arrive at their destination and to the right adults.
Human trafficking aside, there are also custody battle issues and child abduction issues that should be of concern here.
According to a recent article in Aviation Security International (click here) forced labor, child labor, prostitution and involuntary domestic servitude are all reasons for trafficking. While the U.S. has responded to terrorism and has trained some personnel in spotting “suspicious activity” there has been almost no training in spotting the signs of human trafficking, much of which is conducting through the commercial aviation system. Good aviation security means mitigating and preventing many types of threats, including terrorist attacks, bombings, theft, assaults and human trafficking.
In the United Kingdom, Operation Pentameter was launched to try to slow down and ultimately of course, to stop human trafficking. To date, the program has resulted in 188 women being rescued, including 12 minors between the ages of 14 and 17 and over 232 arrests. How old were those kids traveling by themselves? Between 11 and 15 years old.
There are suspicious indicators for children and adults that are traveling alone but are actually being trafficked, just as there are suspicious indicators for children traveling with their abductors. We need to add into our airport and TSA training behavior training programs these indicators. We need to train airline and airport personnel to watch for these signs — like an 11-year-old that strolls through the checkpoint and the airline gate by themselves, we need to once again decide that it’s not okay to allow slavery in our lifetimes and actually do something about it.