October 05, 2015
1 min read

Pediatric survivors of human trafficking may have higher risk for self-harm, suicidal behaviors

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Children and adolescents receiving posttrafficking services in the Greater Melong subregion exhibited high symptom levels of depression, anxiety and PTSD, which are associated with self-harm or suicidal behaviors.

“In the most widely accepted definition of human trafficking, a United Nations protocol defines human trafficking as the use of force or coercion for the purposes of exploitation. Estimates suggest that 5.7 million boys and girls are in situations of forced or bonded labor, 1.2 million are trafficked, and approximately 1.8 million are exploited in the sex industry,” Ligia Kiss, PhD, of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and colleagues wrote. “Despite growing documentation of child labor and a large body of research on the effects of violence on children’s health and well-being, there has been little convergence of evidence on violence and health in situations of child labor.”

To assess abuse and exploitation, mental health outcomes and suicidal behavior among children and adolescents in posttrafficking services, researchers surveyed 387 individuals aged 10 to 17 years in posttrafficking services in Cambodia, Thailand or Vietnam. Study participants were interviewed within 2 weeks of entering services from October 2011 through May 2013.

The majority of study participants were female (82%).

Overall, 56% screened positive for depression, 33% for an anxiety disorder and 26% for PTSD. Twelve percent of the study cohort tried to harm or kill themselves in the month prior to the interview.

Physical violence while trafficked was reported by 41% of males and 19% of females and 23% of females and one male reported sexual violence.

Mental health symptoms were significantly associated with recent self-harm and suicide attempts.

Severe physical violence was associated with depression (adjusted OR = 3.55; 95% CI, 1.64-7.71), anxiety (aOR = 2.13; 95% CI, 1.12-4.05) and suicidal ideation (aOR = 3.68; 95% CI, 1.77-7.67).

Sexual violence was associated with depression (aOR = 2.27; 95% CI, 1.22-4.23) and suicidal ideation (aOR = 3.43; 95% CI, 1.8-6.54).

“Despite potential limitations, these findings confirm what many service providers have witnessed so often: children in posttrafficking services have been exposed to traumatic events and are attempting to cope with haunting memories and deep distress as they try to forge ahead into an uncertain future,” the researchers concluded. – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.