ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Del. Nick Mosby was recently combing through the state criminal code when something disturbing jumped out at him.
The “sale of a minor” was listed on the state books as a misdemeanor. Mosby was stunned.
The Baltimore City lawmaker, who initially was conducting unrelated research on the expungement process, shifted gears and asked his staff to research what he had found. He also called the Legislative Services office to make sure.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he said Thursday. “This shouldn’t be listed as a misdemeanor, it should be listed as a felony.”
Mosby said the law been in effect since 1980, based on a case in Anne Arundel County where a couple sold their daughter for $3,500 and some cocaine. Unfortunately, he said, the law hasn’t been updated since.
“With the uptick in human trafficking [and] drug abuse situations, children are the most vulnerable assets that we have,” he said. “As [a] government, we must protect them in any way.”
His legislation would make it a felony to sell or make an offer to barter, trade or peddle a minor for money or property, with a penalty of up to five years prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000 for each violation.
A hearing on the bill took place Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee.
According to the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, the state rescued nearly 400 people from human traffickers in 2014. About 124 were children used for labor and sex trafficking. Officials said trafficking often occurs along the Interstate 95 corridor and labeled the Mid-Atlantic region as a “hot spot.”
The University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work said the average age of a person targeted ranges between 12 and 14.
Delegate Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) of Landover, a member of the Judiciary Committee, praised Mosby for presenting the bill and expects its passage.
When the bill was first discussed, Lewis admitted he wanted to make sure it literally focused on selling of children, or human trafficking. When he realized it did, he expressed frustration that the law hadn’t been changed years ago.
“Why wasn’t this fixed before we’ve seen it?” Lewis said. “I think it’s utterly ridiculous and disgusting that grown folks are selling minors. People need to know … that we’re not going to be playing around with you. If you take advantage of a minor … or [are] getting a cash payment, you need to be treated exactly the same as the violator.”