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Talking it Over
October 18, 2000
Many people in this country would be shocked to learn that a modern form of slavery has become one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the world.
According to Theresa Loar, Director of the President's Interagency Council on Women, "Trafficking in women and children is now considered the third largest source of profit for organized crime, behind only drugs and guns."
Trafficking is distinguishable from the smuggling of human beings in one horrific detail: Trafficking moves people for the purpose of placing them in modern-day slavery or servitude.
I'm sure that many Americans assume this is a problem limited to other parts of the globe -- that, surely, it doesn't go on here. But it does. I remember reading with horror the story of 60 Mexican immigrants brought to the United States, enslaved, beaten and forced to peddle trinkets in New York; the Thai women held captive and forced to work as garment workers in California; and the Latvian nationals forced into the sex industry by threats of violence in Chicago.
"Traffickers know that throughout the world they can reap large profits while facing a relatively low risk of prosecution," explains Loar. Between one and two million men and women -- although the victims are predominantly women -- are trafficked annually around the world. Fifty thousand are sent to the United States -- about half for sweatshop labor and domestic positions, the others for sexual servitude.
In 1997, the United States, along with the European Union, formally launched a campaign to combat trafficking in women and girls and to warn potential victims of the risks. I was pleased to speak out publicly on that occasion because I have seen firsthand the horrors visited on victims and their families.
At that event, I urged the world's leaders to take a much stronger stand. Trafficking of women and girls is, after all, nothing less than a human rights violation that will haunt us into the 21st century if we do not take strong measures against the practice now. Women sold as domestics and slaves in illegal sweatshops are sometimes literally worked to death. And young girls trafficked into the sex industry are commonly exposed to deadly diseases such as HIV and AIDS.
In Ukraine, women with tears streaming down their faces told me about young girls in their towns -- children really -- who had disappeared. Poverty and economic desperation led them to answer ads promising a better future in a faraway land. Or, they fell victim to bogus travel agents who deceived them with stories of good jobs in prosperous nations like the U.S. Filled with optimism, they left -- never to be heard from again.
In March of 1998, the President, denouncing trafficking as a fundamental human rights violation and a growing organized crime problem, directed his Interagency Council on Women to coordinate development of a three-part strategy: First, prevention of trafficking; second, protection of and assistance for trafficking victims; and third, prosecution of and enforcement against traffickers.
I'm pleased to report that last week, Congress adopted comprehensive legislation to combat trafficking in this country -- legislation that incorporates and strengthens the President's three-part strategy by providing new tools to protect trafficking victims and punish traffickers. It institutionalizes our response so that future administrations will be able to carry this important work forward. Furthermore, it elevates the buying and selling of human beings to the prominent place on the world's agenda it deserves.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, chair of the President's Interagency Council, has raised the issue of trafficking with leaders around the world, reminding them that "Our goal, ultimately, is to mobilize people everywhere so that trafficking in human beings is met by a stop sign visible around the world.
I congratulate Congress for taking an important first step toward this goal. Working in a bipartisan fashion, they put the victims of trafficking above party politics. Now it is time to turn our attention to winning support for an international protocol on trafficking in women and children that would be part of a global Organized Crime Convention.
Every one of us has a stake in making sure that this new instrument of international cooperation sets the standards for our efforts to prevent trafficking, punish the traffickers and protect their victims. Trafficking is nothing less than a pervasive human rights violation and a transnational crime. It is time for us to lead the way and bring it to an end. With the passage of this new law, we can do just that.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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