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Trafficking in Persons Report - An Overview

By Rebecca Kamas on 06/16/2010 @ 12:00 PM

Monday, June 14th, marked the annual release of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report by the U.S. Department of State. I was able to attend the release, where Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke of the importance of the efforts to put a stop to human trafficking.

For the first time in the 10 years of the TIP Report's existence, The United States is ranked, along with 176 other countries, in their efforts to prevent trafficking, protect victims and prosecute traffickers. The State Department took this opportunity to honor 9 heroes from around the world for their efforts to stop the trade of humans. At a NGO briefing yesterday I was able to hear from each of them, and I was struck by their dedication to this cause and their perseverance in the extreme danger that they sometimes face.

Aminetou Mint Moctar was one of these heroes and the head of the Association Femmes Chefs de Familles, an organization she founded in 1999 to help victims of domestic violence, rape, and slavery in Mauritania. Until recently, the government denied the very existence of this problem within the country, something that has changed thanks largely to her efforts. In 2009, Aminetou Mint Moctar, headed a public campaign to denounce trafficking of young Mauritanian girls to Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia, and the exploitation of Mauritanian and West African women living in domestic servitude. She has fought to create a legal framework to protect victims and fight impunity. Her programs are helping to provide education on how to identify victims of trafficking, slavery and domestic servitude, as well as providing legal aid and counseling to victims. She has been a vocal opponent of the traditional practice of early marriages, which increases girls’ chances of being trafficked or sexually exploited. For her work with these sensitive and often taboo issues, she has received innumerable threats. Despite this, Ms. Moctar continues to assist female trafficking victims and raise awareness about their plight on a national and international level.

Another of these heroes is Christine Sabiyumra from Burundi. She was one of the first women to become an army officer in the country and she is now a commander of the National Police’s Women and Children’s Brigade. She walks the streets of Bujumbura, personally searching for children in forced labor or prostitution. Recently, she was responsible for finding and breaking a sex trafficking ring, freeing 17 victims who had been lured across the border to Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda for exploitation.

In addition to profiles on the 177 countries evaluated, the TIP report also contains stories of trafficked persons. One of these was the story of Cindy. Cindy was a poor girl in rural China when a neighbor and her husband offered to give her work at a restaurant their friends opened in Africa. Cindy dropped out of school and went with the couple to Ghana, only to fall victim to a Chinese sex trafficking ring. She was taken to live in a brothel with other Chinese women, and her passport and return tickets were confiscated. Her traffickers forced her to engage in commercial sex and beat her when she refused. They made her peruse casinos to attract white men. The traffickers took Cindy’s money, telling her she had to repay them for her travel and accommodation costs. A Ghanaian investigative journalist exposed the ring, and the traffickers were prosecuted in a Ghanaian court. With NGO assistance, Cindy and the other women returned to China and are trying to rebuild their lives.

We also heard about some of the United States' efforts to combat trafficking at home. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are putting several new programs in place. In the prevention area, DHS is going to start displaying posters and passing out tear-off cards in several languages at ports of entry, to inform immigrants that there is help available if they find themselves victims. Also, they are planning to distribute "shoe cards", with the Polaris Project hot-line number, which can be easily obtained and hidden. For more about Polaris Project, click here.

This is a campaign to provide important info to potential victims of trafficking. Many don't know where to go for help, or that there is even help available. A male victim of forced labor in Southeastern Europe explains: “I knew nothing about the assistance available for trafficking victims. I didn’t know who to address in the destination country in case I needed help. I thought I could go only to the police. There I didn’t have enough courage to go to the police because the [traffickers] used to say that they bought the police. They threatened me with death in case I went to the police. I was afraid.”

There are also plans to make the punishment for trafficking stricter, to add as a deterrent, and the U.S. hopes to put programs in place to better train state and local law enforcement officials, usually the first responders to these situations, to recognize the signs of human trafficking. There are also plans for additional support within courtrooms, training judges and appointing advocates for the victims. The government is recognizing that there should be an alternative to deportation and imprisonment for victims of trafficking.

Though sex trafficking may be the most publicized form of human trafficking, it is also important to look at forced labor. We need to push corporations to look at their supply chain to make sure it is free of forced labor. Many of the victims, in the United States and in the world, are domestic workers who are not offered the same legal protection as other worker, so we need to ask our governments to extend these protections to all forms of employment. And we need to address the root causes of trafficking: greed, misery and impunity. We have written about this tragic issue before and we will continue to report on progress to combating human trafficking.

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