- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED:

A millionaire perfume maker in Islip, N.Y. was convicted and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for committing a crime - human trafficking - that most people had never heard of just five years ago. That crime is the modern-day equivalent of slavery. In this case, the victims were two Indonesian women who were beaten, starved and never allowed out of the mansion where they worked as domestic servants.

The same month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice released the eighth annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report assessing 170 countries, a report widely considered the most authoritative account of international efforts to end modern-day slavery.

Since 2003, often based on U.S. recommendation, foreign governments have passed over 150 acts creating or amending anti-trafficking legislation to cover this crime against human freedom which is also a global health threat and a threat to national security. At home, since 2003, 39 states have approved anti-trafficking statutes to combat this despicable crime.

Across the span of his presidency, at home and abroad, George W. Bush has led U. S. government efforts to eradicate modern-day slavery.

It is a fight that has received consistent support from the White House and bipartisan backing from Congress. It is a legacy of achievement that should make Americans proud. Taking aggressive action at home is essential if the United States is to be credible and urge other nations to do more. Prostituted children are considered victims of human trafficking under U.S. law. Because U.S. law enforcement is now giving special, targeted attention to end the prostitution of children, I am able to urge other countries to do the same, especially in Latin America and Asia.

Through the Innocence Lost Initiative, a joint federal and state effort sponsored by the Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, more than 400 children have been rescued from prostitution. Since 2001, the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorneys’ offices prosecuted 156 trafficking in persons cases, securing 342 convictions and guilty pleas. More than three times as many human- trafficking cases were filed and more than three times as many defendants were convicted in 2007 compared to 2001.

Since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigations have led to over 300 convictions for human trafficking and related offenses. The Department of Health and Human Services has made over 1,370 foreign adult and minor trafficking victims in the United States eligible to receive federally funded services and benefits to the same extent as refugees.

As a leader in the global effort, the United States has committed over $528 million to fund international anti-trafficking programs since fiscal 2001, including a special $50 million presidential initiative. In my role as point person for the U.S. government’s efforts to fight human trafficking, I have met many beneficiaries of American leadership. Manesh and Jaya, husband and wife, were forced to work in a brick kiln in India, treated as less than human because they were born into the lowest caste in their society. They were freed from bonded labor and received restitution with help from International Justice Mission - which my office funds as a partner. Sitting on the floor of their spare, one-room house in Tamil Nadu, I came to understand how they had crossed a threshold to freedom with the loving help of American and Indian NGOs and authorities.

The United States is always striving to improve its efforts to vigorously identify, protect, and assist U.S. citizen victims of trafficking, improve collaboration across all spectrums of the U.S. government to aid victims, and increase efforts to combat labor trafficking on par with sex trafficking. The U.S. anti-trafficking strategy has included sustained, successful prosecutorial and humanitarian efforts-endeavoring to practice at home what we preach internationally.

With the international community watching, President Bush stood up before the U.N. General Assembly and said in 2003: “We must show new energy in fighting back an old evil. The trade in human beings for any purpose must not be allowed to thrive in our time.” These words have been taken to heart and turned into dignity reclaimed from Islip to India, and so many places in between. Future administrations will build on this strong foundation and continue putting victims first.

Ambassador Mark P. Lagon is director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

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