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|Posted on December 3, 2006||<< Prev | Web Log Entries |
Posted from Seattle, Washington (USA) at 3:42 PM local time
Slavery Lives On
Yesterday marked the fifty-sixth anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. That celebrated moment is a mouthful better summarized as the resolution that formally abolished human trafficking and slavery among UN member states. December 2nd is celebrated annually as the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Of course, while formally denounced by the vast majority of the world's governments, human slavery persists today.
I was on the East Coast last week for school visits and a conference on human trafficking. Sponsored by the NYU Center for Global Affairs, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and Vital Voices Global Partnership, the conference was designed to increase awareness of and consider policy and actions that might be taken against the global scourge of human trafficking. Trafficking can be defined as the illegal trade of human beings - through abduction, the use or threat of force, deception, fraud, or sale - for the purposes of sexual exploitation or forced labor.
One of the striking things about human trafficking is how severe but little-known the problem is. According to the 2004 United States Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, nearly one million people are trafficked annually worldwide, the majority of them women and children. That's a frighteningly high number of people. Perhaps even more surprising to some, between 14,500 and 17,500 individuals are trafficked to the United States each year. The U.S. is the second most common destination in the world for trafficked women! Hence, stories like the one in August about 67 Korean women who'd been trafficked to the U.S.; their identification and travel documents were seized and the women forced to work in brothels on the East Coast. The United Nations estimates that criminal groups rake in $7 billion annually as a result of trafficking activities. Seven billion dollars. This is big business, and lives are being destroyed to make it happen.
The conference at NYU last week included a panel discussion entitled "Human Trafficking: A Global Challenge in our Own Backyard." Panelists included New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who moderated the discussion; U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York; Ambassador John Miller, Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. State Department; Ruchira Gupta, Executive Director of Apne Aap Women Worldwide (India); Marilyn Carlson Nelson, CEO and Chairperson of Carlson Companies; and actress Julia Ormond, who serves as Goodwill Ambassador for the Abolition of Slavery and Human Trafficking for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. (Wow, another mouthful!)
Reflected in the panel discussion was the fact that liberals and conservatives are united in the fight against human trafficking. The severity of the problem and need for action are acknowledged by leaders on both sides of the political aisle. John Miller's office is among the few Bush administration offices widely praised by liberal politicians. Ambassador Miller was among the most animated of the panelists, urging audience members to educate themselves about the problem and encourage their elected representatives to take action to reduce the occurrence of human trafficking. Few states have laws against trafficking; even fewer are comprehensive in scope. Legislation to combat trafficking would seemingly be appropriate.
Another point worth noting is the amount of attention paid to the demand side of the trafficking problem. Billions of dollars are made because of high demand for sexual services and indentured servitude. Traditionally, the supply side of the equation receives the attention. Prostitutes and traffickers are considered. But what about the people who make use of these individuals' services? What about those who see prostitutes or employ trafficked laborers? It seemingly makes sense to examine this aspect of the problem if we hope to reduce the incidence of trafficking across the globe. Panelists discussed the notion of legalized prostitution in America as a means of fighting the trafficking problem and came down resoundingly (if not unanimously) against it.
As yesterday's commemoration reminded us, slavery is wrong but persists today. I've seen evidence of it firsthand in places like India and Cambodia. I encourage you to learn more about the problem. Watch a recording of the NYU panel discussion last week by following this link. Visit a few of the Web sites linked below. Finally, write your elected representatives and implore them to take action. Consider sending a letter to President Bush asking him to bring attention to the problem in his January State of the Union address. A single sentence would make millions aware of a problem they know nothing about today. (My letter will be sent next week!)
Vital Voices Trafficking Info | 2006 Trafficking in Persons Rpt | humantrafficking.org