Monday, September 7, 2009

DNA Project to Identify Trafficked Children

From the Fort Worth Business Press:
A child living on the streets in a developing country may have no idea how he ended up there. He may not remember or know who his parents are or where he was born. The same applies to many children who are caught up in various types of human trafficking, forced into prostitution, forced labor, military activities or adoptions.

Dr. Jose Lorente, director of the Lab of Genetic Identification at the University of Granada in Spain, would frequently see children living on their own during his travels and ask about where they came from.

“I was many times told that there was no way to connect them back to the families,” he said. “Then I thought that DNA could help.”

Using DNA to match children back to their parents is the central focus of a new project that is being lead by Lorente and by Arthur Eisenberg, co-director of the[University of North Texas] Center for Human Identification and professor and chairman of the department of forensic and investigative genetics. Lorente and Eisenberg have long had a professional relationship and close friendship, they
say, and the new project — the DNA Program for Kids Identification with DNA Systems, or DNA-PROKIDS — just received a major grant to continue international
efforts to put children back with their families.

Lorente first thought of using DNA to identify children and parents back in 2000, he said, and in 2004 started DNA-PROKIDS. . . . The pilot work was done in 2006, primarily in Mexico and Guatemala. Eisenberg said children from orphanages and adoption centers were tested, and Lorente said 200 matches were made—the children had been kidnapped or somehow smuggled away from their parents into these institutions. [emphasis added]

* * *

Working with individual countries as well as with international agencies, like Interpol, is essential to make sure everything adheres to laws and standards in various parts of the world, Eisenberg said. But he said what is equally important is educating the public at large, letting parents know that if their child is missing, there is something they can do by sending in a DNA sample — usually gathered from a cheek swab or finger prick.

Public education, like posters or public announcements, may also act as some kind of a deterrent to dissuade criminals from trafficking children, but “this is too big of a business to think you’ll ever stop it,” he said.

* * *

In late October, representatives from various countries will gather in Granada to learn more about how to develop and international database of children and parents . . . . Lorente said Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Philippines are expected to be represented at the meeting; other large countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil and China are also expected toparticipate, Eisenberg said.

The story reports that the project has just received a $500,000 grant -- well-deserved for such a worthwhile project. Prior to this grant, most of the funding for the project came from the government of Spain.

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