- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

The United States abolished legalized slavery nearly 140 years ago, but today a new scourge of human slavery remains and thrives throughout the world. Americans need to know the reality of human trafficking and our government needs to exert its fullest strength to end this appalling human rights abuse.

An estimated 700,000 to 4 million victims of human trafficking are bought, sold, transported and held against their will in slave-like conditions each year. Most victims are women and children.

Many are lured from their homes with promises of a better life by cunning traffickers who force them to work in brothels as sex slaves or as forced laborers in sweatshops, as domestic servants, or beggars, to name just a few scenarios. Violence is commonly used to control victims and maintain their servitude. In cases of forced prostitution, victims are repeatedly raped every day and are forced to cope in subhuman conditions.

Recently, the State Department released its second annual "Trafficking in Persons" (TIP) report, which evaluates the efforts of 89 countries in combating the modern-day slavery of human trafficking. The TIP report is a tool created by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a law that I sponsored to assess the progress made in combating the scourge of trafficking in human beings around the world. The law requires the State Department to rank countries' efforts to meet minimum standards to combat trafficking and whether those countries are making "significant efforts" to bring itself into compliance with those standards.

When the law was enacted in 2000, many in Congress and the administration did not want to publicly name offending countries. Other policymakers, myself included, argued that some countries only get serious about addressing their failures to combat slavery if their deficiencies are publicly identified. My two year's experience with the TIP report supports that argument: During the year between the first and the second reports, the governments of more than two dozen countries improved their behavior and policies enough to merit an improved mark. Only two countries Cambodia and the Kyrgyz Republic dropped in ranking from the first year to the second.

It is clear the Bush administration devoted substantial time, effort and personnel to prepare the 2002 TIP report. The report will continue to serve as a useful tool for diplomats and members of Congress as we engage our foreign counterparts regarding their efforts to combat human trafficking.

Nonetheless, the TIP report is not flawless. India, Thailand and Vietnam, among others, received better rankings than they deserved despite credible reports indicating their efforts to combat trafficking were clearly insignificant in light of the enormity of the human trafficking problems in those countries. More than 2.3 million girls and women are believed to be working in the sex industry against their will at any given time possibly as many as 40 percent are children. In India, for example, more than 200,000 persons are trafficked in the country each year. Indian boys, some as young as age 4, are trafficked abroad to be enslaved and brutalized as camel jockeys in camel races. Evidence exists that law-enforcement and government officials help facilitate human trafficking, that investigations and prosecutions of traffickers are rare, and that local corruption renders most prosecutorial efforts ineffective. Nonetheless, the State Department deemed India to be making "significant efforts" to combat trafficking.

As we move forward, it is imperative that the United States and foreign governments exert more effort to eliminate the scourge of human slavery. The United States must be resolute in ensuring that governments that do not seriously combat trafficking will receive and retain the lowest possible ranking until they mend their ways. We must also ensure that even our allies are not given a free pass if the facts show they are not doing enough to address modern-day slavery. If the report is to continue to be an effective document, it must honestly evaluate countries according to the evidence.

Above all, the United States must lead by example. Despite the U.S. government's many initiatives to prevent and punish trafficking in human beings here and abroad, I recently received disturbing information that some U.S. military personnel stationed in South Korea are patrons of brothels where trafficked women are enslaved in forced prostitution. U.S. military personnel appear to have knowledge that these women are forced to prostitute themselves and, perhaps most disturbingly, their actions appear to be taking place with the knowledge and tacit consent of their commanding officers.

The Pentagon must act expeditiously to clean up its act in this regard. I and other members of the House and Senate have requested Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to launch an immediate and thorough investigation into U.S. soldiers' unconscionable exploitation of enslaved women, while fighting to defend freedom and liberty abroad.

While we are making progress in our fight against human trafficking, the sheer number of victims worldwide possibly as many as half the population of my home state of New Jersey underscores the gravity of this problem and the vast amount of work still to be done.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Republican from New Jersey, is vice chairman of the House Committee on International Relations.

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