This is the year of pronouncements about fighting human trafficking. On the last day of 2015, President Obama declared January, 2016, National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. And today he announced how linking admission to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is going to fight this modern form of slavery. He was speaking at a special meeting with Vietnamese young entrepreneurs during his week-long visit to Vietnam and Japan.
In this brief excerpt from his talk, we hear Obama claim that the United States is serious about fighting this epidemic.
“… Look, the issue of human trafficking is something that we have made a top priority in our State Department and the United States government. So we have an entire set of policies designed specifically to prevent human trafficking, and we’ve actually begun making progress in improved enforcement, in improved law enforcement coordination. NGO’s have been very helpful as partners with us in identifying what are some of the paths where people are being exploited. With respect to TPP, it’s precisely because we put such an emphasis on this that we actually have provisions in TPP designed to prevent human trafficking and it’s actually given us leverage to work with some countries, to say ‘If you want to be part of TPP, you have to have a better system in place to prevent human trafficking, including some of these cross-border migrant worker situations.’ “
Apprehension and arrest of Americans suspected of trafficking young American citizens grabs media attention and keeps the issue in the public eye. For example, the arrests in March this year of two men separately accused of trafficking two girls, 14 and 16 years of age, and most recently, the arrest of 32 men suspected of trafficking in children and adolescents. Among those arrested are 2 ministers.
However important these arrests are, this is just the very tip of a huge iceberg. There are an estimated 20 million trafficking victims around the world. Because fighting human trafficking is both a domestic and international concern, global cooperation is required to overcome it. Therefore, Obama’s speech in Vietnam may have been meant to coincide with the UN summit on fighting human trafficking in humanitarian aid situations.
The Obama administration has been accused, however, of aiding and abetting perpetrators of human trafficking by insufficiently vetting sponsors of displaced children who were approved by government agencies. Some of these sponsors were, in fact, traffickers and the children entrusted to their care disappeared into the web of human exploitation, some involving slave labor and some involving prostitution. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) instigated an investigation into the issue after a number of trafficked Guatemalan teenagers were discovered working on an egg farm.
” ‘It is intolerable that human trafficking — modern-day slavery — could occur in our own backyard,’ Portman said in a written statement. ‘What makes the Marion cases even more alarming is that a U.S. government agency was responsible for delivering some of the victims into the hands of their abusers.’ “
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) works with human trafficking victims, rehabilitating them and preparing them to return to society.
On July 30, they will hold an event called “World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.” The refugee crisis, whereby millions of people are displaced within their own countries or forced to flee beyond their borders, creates a situation that is perfect for exploitation by criminals seeking vulnerable people, mainly women and minors. Human trafficking is a billion dollar business, and the perpetrators are not going to give up without a fight. In fact, sex tourism, one branch of the human trafficking enterprise, may even be growing.
Human trafficking has become the subject of feature films, documentaries, and episodes of television crime shows only since the beginning of this century, picking up in the past decade. Attention to the subject in the cinemas and small screen seems to reflect the growing intention of government bodies in various countries and international agencies to fight the problem.
In 2012, President Obama announced his efforts at combating human trafficking using the following means.
- An Executive Order requiring compliance to anti-trafficking measures for all domestic and foreign contractors.
- Providing training in identification of and response to trafficking incidents for local, state and federal law-enforcement and court professionals as well as to those engaged in commercial activities where human trafficking may occur.
- Increase resources available for the rehabilitation of victims.
- Develop a comprehensive plan for the future, including the Inter Agency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking and other professional organizations as related to business and commerce, law enforcement, travel and more.
There is, as yet, no report available to indicate whether or not these lofty statements of intent have found fruition on the ground. It is clear, however, that the current decade is one of increasing attention to fighting human trafficking.
[Image via Pixabay]