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Type of document: News
Topic: Actions/initiatives/projects
Law enforcement
Geographic descriptors: United States of America
Language: English
Date of publication: 15 September 2004
Long Abstract: There was an unusual sight last week in the gilded elegance of the State Department's main reception room: anti-abortion activists standing shoulder-to-shoulder with abortion rights campaigners in shared commitment. With Secretary of State Colin Powell presiding, members of this odd coalition were attending a ceremony that highlighted the scourge of human trafficking and why united action was necessary to combat it. Among those present was Jessica Neuwirth, president of the women's rights group Equality Now. "This would be one of the rare moments I would find myself in the State Department," said Neuwirth, whose organization advocates women's rights throughout the world including a right to abortion. Among other projects, her group has been battling U.S. sex tourism companies that promote travel by Americans to Southeast Asia for encounters with women and children forced into prostitution. Also at the ceremony was Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., a leading congressional activist against abortion and trafficking. He has introduced two major anti-trafficking laws passed since 2000. For some, trafficking is an issue that carries a deep moral resonance. Perhaps the most repugnant form of trafficking constitutes the kidnapping of children and forcing them into prostitution. If these luckless youngsters are the 21st century's slaves, Smith, Neuwirth and others trying to free them are the new abolitionists. Among them is former Rep. Linda Smith, R-Wash., who said an encounter with an 11-year-old girl in India years ago was a life-transforming experience. She committed her life to help women and girls desperate to escape forced prostitution. Toward that end, she founded Shared Hope International. Scores activists much like Smith were at the State Department ceremony. They witnessed the swearing-in of former Rep. John R. Miller, R-Wash., to the newly created position of ambassador-at-large for the department's anti-trafficking office. Previously, he was office director. "Today, the slavery is not just on plantations and in homes; it is in factories and armies as well, and especially in brothels," Miller said in a speech. "But the slave masters use the same tools today as the earlier slave masters: kidnapping, fraud, threats and beatings, all aimed at forcing women, children, and men into labor and sex exploitation." No country, he said, is free of the plague. Former Rep. Smith agrees, citing estimates that 4,000 women a year are trafficked into his home state. Countries that don't act to combat serious trafficking problems can be subject to international penalties. The White House ordered partial sanctions against Venezuela last Friday for its role as a "source, transit and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation." A Venezuelan spokesman said the U.S. allegations were "not well-documented." Among industrialized countries, Japan has one of the poorest trafficking records, according to a June State Department report. Brothels in Cambodia were found by the Virginia-based International Justice Mission to be employing girls aged 4 to 14. It mounted an operation to rescue the children. World Hope International, also located in Virginia, is heavily involved in rehabilitation of these victims. The State Department estimates that up to 800,000 people, mostly women and children, are trafficked across national borders annually. Millions more are trafficked within their own countries. Powell says U.S. efforts have contributed either directly or indirectly to 2,800 trafficking convictions worldwide. He says 24 countries have enacted new legislation banning trafficking. While traffickers prey mostly on females, males are often victims as well. The International Justice Mission recounts the story of Sridar, a 10-year old Indian boy who earned 20 cents a day rolling bidis, small cigarettes. His quota was 1,000 a day, and he suffered beatings if his output fell short. His desperate parents had sold him to a money lender for $31. As a result of the intervention of the Virginia charity, local authorities ordered Sridar released from a year's bondage and the debt to the money lender forgiven.
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