- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2001

Nigerian children headed for a life of slavery selling nylon and water in Gabon died off the coast of West Africa before they could fulfill their captor's goals for them, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said Wednesday. Tragically, these 150 children represent only a tiny fraction of the children exploited every year for money they will never see. They are trafficked due to greed, political instability or social factors in countries where women and children are viewed as disposable commodities.

Every year, around 700,000 people are illegally lured, coerced and transported across international borders, Secretary of State Colin Powell said at the release of the "Trafficking in Persons" report last week. About 45,000 to 50,000 of those are trafficked to the United States. Most are women and children sold or forced to perform sex or labor in sweatshops. While America's recent efforts to increase international awareness and fund the protection of victims are a good first step toward fighting the problem, the fact that the United States is involved in over 7 percent of the world's human trafficking is shocking.

This puts the United States in an odd position when it comes to upholding other aspects of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 which mandated the annual trafficking report. The act allows the president to stop non-trade or non-humanitarian aid to the countries in the tier of the worst offenders by the year 2003. This year, the category has 23 countries including U.S. allies Israel, Greece and Saudi Arabia. Imagine the dilemma this could cause for the relationship between the United States and Israel - which benefits from U.S. military aid - if the president were to sanction its long-time ally. The act does allow the president to exempt from sanctions countries which he deems would hurt U.S. national interests, and this he would be best to use in the case of Israel and Saudi Arabia, which are lumped together with countries such as the Sudan and Kazakhstan.

The House did set up a positive alternative to international shaming tactics of long-time friends in an appropriations bill passed this Wednesday. It provided $10 million to help care for victims of trafficking, in addition to creating 12 new positions in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

The Senate has yet to pass the bill this summer. With its passage and implementation, the United States can send another message to the international perpetrators bringing women and children as slaves to our shores - America will not close its eyes to the humans turned commodities shipped here. It is indeed the land of the free.

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