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Human Trafficking and the Child Protection Compact Act of 2009


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Have you purchased a new pair of sneakers lately? Placed a call on a cell phone? Had a fruit salad for lunch?

If so, then there's a pretty good chance you have unwittingly benefited from slave labor. That's right: From the emblem on your shoes stitched in Asia, to the cobalt in your smartphone mined in Africa, to the berries on your plate picked in the Americas, there is a real likelihood that someone was exploited to provide you with the goods you take for granted.

Human trafficking has become so pervasive that Interpol now deems it the third most profitable transnational criminal enterprise – behind trafficking of arms and drugs – and it's quickly closing in on weapons-running.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), at least 12.3 million people are presently victims of human trafficking, the majority of them women and girls. But perhaps the most unfortunate casualties of this trade are children, who account for approximately 20% of all trafficked persons. Sadly, the ILO estimates that 1.8 million children are exploited by the commercial sex industry every year.

In the past decade, the United States has spearheaded a global crackdown on the trafficking of people, with a particular emphasis on rescuing children from the grip of involuntary servitude. Since 2000, with the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the U.S. has been at the forefront of promoting greater international efforts to combat trafficking.

Currently, Congress is considering a bill that would add to the undertakings of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in terms of protecting minors under the age of 18. But as we will show, the pending Child Protection Compact Act is a piece of legislation that embodies smart ends but selects poor means to accomplish them.

The Different Types of Human Trafficking

Human traffickers are cunning con-artists who use deceit or force to trap their prey in appalling conditions. The Internet is rife with stories of men and women being promised legitimate jobs abroad, only to arrive in their host country and to be told that they must first work off their debt in a sweatshop or a brothel. Stories involving children tend to be the most heart-wrenching: the son sent to relatives to receive a better education, only to be sold to a trafficker so that he might learn a trade; or the daughter kidnapped by a neighbor and then sold to a trafficker – sometimes for as little as $100 – so that she can be forced into prostitution.

While there are numerous ways to exploit people, there are in essence four main categories of human trafficking:

• Involuntary Servitude: Of all forms of human trafficking worldwide, this is the most prevalent. It involves forcing someone to perform work by deception or coercion. One of the best-known cases involving forced labor occurred right here in the U.S., and involved an affluent Long Island, NY, couple who had subjugated two women in their home for five years. As if to leave no doubt that this case of involuntary servitude was nothing short of modern-day slavery, the housekeepers were required to refer to the oppressors as "master" and "missus."

• Debt Bondage: A form of bonded labor, this involves an adulterated form of involuntary servitude. The victim is required to work off a debt before being allowed to pursue a job of his or her own choosing. In some instances, bonded laborers are provided with living quarters and some kind of wage, but only a bare subsistence wage. One of the most common forms of debt bondage involves migrant workers, who are transported somewhere and then forced to work off their "transportation costs." Another practice involves threatening migrant workers with repatriation if they do not comply with their traffickers' demands.

• Sex Trafficking: Usually, this involves the exploitation of females for purposes of prostitution or pornography – although lately, the number of reports of males being sexually exploited seems to be on the rise. Prostitution and pornography do not necessarily involve human trafficking. However, forcing people into the commercial sex industry against their will constitutes trafficking. Sex trafficking, then, often involves either a form of involuntary servitude or a form of debt bondage, but with the added horrors of sexual assault and/or exploitation.

• Organ Trafficking: While this is hardly as prevalent as the other three categories of human trafficking, one need only to jump onto Twitter to read nightmarish tales of people being trafficked for purposes of organ removal. The old urban legend involved the story of someone being promised work on the condition that he passed a medical exam. After being taken to a clinic, the person awakens, only to be told that his kidney has been removed and that, if he alerts authorities, he'll be killed. Sounds like a Hollywood horror film, but for the fact that it has actually happened in India, according to news reports. Indeed, the World Health Organization estimates that as many as 7,000 kidneys are illegally obtained by traffickers every year.

While involuntary servitude, debt bondage, sex trafficking, and organ trafficking are the main forms of human trafficking, there are also four categories of trafficking that are unique to children:

• Forced Child Labor (akin to involuntary servitude, but involving children).

• Child Soldiering (recruiting and ordering children to train in military tactics and engage in military patrols and combat).

• Child Sexual Servitude (forcing children to be domestic sex slaves).

• Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (trafficking children for purposes of forcing them into prostitution or pornography).

Human Trafficking and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) is arguably the most important anti-trafficking law ever passed. Its main purpose is to eradicate human trafficking, and it is a seminal piece of law in that it defines "human trafficking," thus providing the framework by which the government comprehends and combats this growing scourge. Pursuant to the TVPA, the most egregious forms of human trafficking are defined as:

a. sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or

b. the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

In essence, human trafficking involves the exploitation of a person through "force, fraud, or coercion" for financial benefit.

Despite the common understanding of the term, an important feature of the TVPA's conceptualization of trafficking is that there is no requirement that the person has to be physically transported from one locale to another, in order for the act to constitute "human trafficking."

The TVPA seeks to combat trafficking by promoting a policy of "3 Ps": prosecution, protection, and prevention. Prosecution involves passing the appropriate laws that criminalize trafficking, and jailing the abusers who exploit other humans for profit. Protection involves identifying victims, providing them with medical care and shelter (and if necessary witness protection), and, when appropriate, repatriating them. Prevention involves raising awareness of the inhumane practices involved in the trafficking trade and promoting a paradigm shift that seeks to reduce the demand for the "fruits" of human trafficking.

While trafficking does occur right here in the U.S. (even in our own small towns and backyards), the majority of human trafficking takes place abroad, particularly in Asia. Overseas, the TVPA charges the State Department with monitoring foreign governments' efforts to crackdown on trafficking. As part of this endeavor, each year the Secretary of State issues a report of each nation's progress: the Trafficking in Persons (TiP) Report.

The 2009 TiP Report was issued a few weeks ago, and the conclusions are hardly uplifting. Of particular concern, the number of people who are vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers has been magnified by the global economic downturn. With unemployment on the rise, and more and more people in need of money, the conditions are ideal for traffickers to take advantage of desperate people. Most troubling, as the report notes, is the continued practice of parents selling their children as a means of settling debts.

To eradicate such practices, the State Department is tasked with cajoling foreign governments into combating human trafficking. As part of this campaign, every year the State Department ranks the anti-trafficking efforts of foreign governments, placing countries in one of four categories. Tier 1 countries are those that meet the TVPA's minimum standards of fighting human trafficking. Tier 2 countries are those states that, while not fully complying with the TVPA's minimum standards, are at least making significant efforts to comply. Tier 2 Watch List countries are Tier 2 countries with significant trafficking problems and/or a slippage in their most recent efforts. Tier 3 countries are those that not only do not meet TVPA minimum standards, but also are failing to do much to combat trafficking.

In the latest TiP Report, out of the 173 states assessed, only 28 merited Tier 1 status. The plurality of countries (76) earned a Tier 2 rating. The remaining 69 nations were placed either on the Tier 2 Watch List (52) or Tier 3 (17).

As recent efforts have been underwhelming at best, Congress is now contemplating new legislation to empower America's diplomatic corps with an additional means of protecting society's most unsuspecting and vulnerable prey: children.

The Child Protection Compact Act and Child Trafficking Abroad

The Child Protection Compact Act (CPCA – H.R. 2737), sponsored by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), seeks to "to protect and rescue children from trafficking by the establishment of Child Protection Compacts between the United States and select eligible countries with a significant prevalence of trafficking in children." The goal of the CPCA is to provide funding (through grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts) to foreign governments so that they can develop and implement national child protection strategies to combat the exploitation and trafficking of children.

In particular, Congress seeks to encourage foreign governments to develop and promote the following seven initiatives or programs:

• Evaluation of legal standards and practices and recommendations for improvements that will increase the likelihood of successful prosecutions.

• Training anti-trafficking police and investigators.

• Building the capacity of domestic nongovernmental organizations to educate vulnerable populations about the danger of trafficking, and to work with law enforcement to identify and rescue victims.

• Creation of victim-friendly courts.

• Development of appropriate after-care facilities for rescued victims.

• Development and maintenance of data collection systems.

• Development of regional cooperative plans with neighboring countries to prevent cross-border trafficking of children and child sex tourism.

These are excellent initiatives, and the CPCA is on the right track in terms of encouraging foreign governments to strengthen their national efforts to protect children from exploitation and trafficking.

However, the CPCA does not go far enough. At present, the Act only plans to allocate $50 million to the promotion of bilateral compacts – over three years. In other words, the CPCA would make, on average, approximately $16.7 million available to the State Department on an annual basis.

When one takes into account that these funds are most needed by the Tier 2 and Tier 2 Watch List countries, the math comes up dramatically short. In essence, if every country from these two categories were to seek to enter into a Child Protection Compact with the U.S., it would mean that an average of only $130,000 would be available to each country each year. And it doesn't take a whiz kid to know that practically every single one of the seven initiatives identified above will cost more than that.

In conclusion, human trafficking is one of the darkest sides to globalization. It occurs everywhere in the world – and it is deplorable, particularly when it exploits children. The CPCA, in conjunction with the TVPA, can truly make a significant impact in protecting society's most vulnerable victims – but not without a greater, more realistic allocation of funding.

We hope that as Congress considers this pending legislation that it will put its money where its mouth is. Fighting this 21st century form of slavery demands nothing less.

Louis Klarevas is a professor at New York University's Center for Global Affairs and coordinator of the Transnational Security concentration in the M.S. in Global Affairs program.

Christine Buckley is a human rights advocate and co-author (with Aaron Cohen) of Slave Hunter: One Man's Quest to Free Victims of Human Trafficking, (Simon and Schuster 2009).

You can follow the authors on Twitter, respectively, at: and

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