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From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Mon May 15 2000 - 09:43:48 EDT


OTC 5-12-00 2:03 AM

WASHINGTON, (May 10) IPS - The House of Representatives, tackling a growing
problem that has already caught the attention of U.S. intelligence
agencies, has approved a new bill designed to punish and prevent
trafficking of women and children by international crime syndicates.
    In a voice vote taken without opposition, the lower house passed the
Trafficking Victim's Protection Act (TVPA), which toughens penalties for
those convicted of human trafficking and provides safe haven and support
for victims who are brought to this country by traffickers.
    It also bans non-humanitarian aid to foreign governments which tolerate
or condone trafficking and provides for public information programs in
victims' home communities so that other women and children who are forced
or induced to leave home in hopes of finding work abroad learn about the
risks and dangers of trafficking.
    "Every year, millions of women and children are trafficked into
modern-day slavery around world, and many are forced coerced, or
fraudulently thrust into the international sex trade industry with no way
out," said Republican Rep. Chris Smith, the chief TVPA sponsor. "This
legislation will put these offenders behind bars while protecting the
victim," he added.
    "It is intolerable that at the beginning of the 21st century, people are
still being sold into modern-day slavery," noted Rep. Sam Gejdenson, the
bill's chief Democratic sponsor. "This bill seeks not only to address the
effects of this problem in the United States, but also its root causes --
the economic conditions which continue to imperil the lives of vulnerable
women and children."
    The measure was backed by an extraordinarily broad range of groups, from
the Christian Right Family Research Council to Equality Now, a progressive
feminist campaign. Lawmakers who are usually bitterly opposed to each other
on population issues found themselves united on this initiative.
    As many as two million people, primarily women and children, cross
national borders each year in search of what they believe is legitimate
work, but which turns out to be a form of virtual slavery or indentured
servitude to employers who use them as prostitutes or in hard labor.
    Of that total, some 50,000 such people are brought to the United States
each year, mostly from Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Mexico, and
Asia, according to a recent study by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),
which recently concluded that human trafficking has become the
fastest-growing source of profits for organized criminal enterprises around
the world.
    The study, "International Trafficking in Women to the United States: A
Contemporary Manifestation of Slavery," cites examples of women coming to
the United States in response to ads for au pair, sales clerk, secretarial
or waitress jobs, but once here, finding that they have been taken prisoner
and forced into prostitution or indentured servitude.
    The CIA study cited, among other examples, cases of Latvian women
brought to Chicago where they were forced to dance naked in private clubs;
and Mexican women, including girls as young as 14, brought here on the
promise of housekeeping or childcare jobs and sold directly to brothels.
    If they resist, they are often threatened with bodily harm, even death,
or they are told that their families back home will be harmed. If they
still do not cooperate, they are beaten and often raped, according to the
study and testimony provided to the House International Relations Committee
by expert witnesses and victims over the past several months.
    "Trafficking is a form of torture," said Laura Lederer of the Protection
Project, a leader in the fight to get the bill enacted.
    Still others are brought here as indentured servants in sweatshops or in
households. The public was shocked in 1995 when 72 Thai workers were
discovered in a town near Los Angeles where they were forced to work 20
hours a day for 69 cents an hour in a compound ringed by razor wire fencing
to prevent their escape.
    In another case cited by the CIA, a Nigerian smuggling ring charged
parents as much as $12,000 to bring their children to New York to gain a
better education. Once arrived, however, the children were forced to work
as domestics.
    Moreover, trafficking is growing both in the United States and
worldwide, according to the report, which singled out Thailand, Vietnam,
China, Mexico, Russia, and the Czech Republic as the major sources for
traffickers who deliver to the United States.
    The study, however, found that the U.S. justice and immigration systems
were ill-equipped to deal with the challenges presented by trafficking in
part because of confusion over jurisdiction, the difficulty in
investigating cases, and the light penalties -- maximum penalties now do
not exceed 10 years in prison -- handed out to traffickers or employers
when they are discovered.
    Worse, the victims -- particularly those compelled to work in the sex
industry -- are most often immediately deported to their home countries
where the economic conditions which propelled them into the hands of
traffickers have not changed and where they cannot testify against the
    The TVPA is a first attempt to rectify those problems. It provides for
much tougher penalties for those engaged in trafficking or employing its
victims. Maximum penalties will be doubled under the law to up to 20 years
with the possibility of life imprisonment in cases where the offence
results in death or involve kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse, or an
attempt to kill.
    In addition, the bill provides that victims of severe forms of
trafficking in the United States who are willing to cooperate with law
enforcement agencies would be eligible for both a new type of visa
legalizing their stay here and for benefits under certain federal programs.
Up to 5,000 such "T" visas could be granted each year.
    "Until now, our laws have seemingly targeted the victims of trafficking
instead of the perpetrators," Gejdenson said today. "This bill will ensure
better prosecution of traffickers and better protection for victims."
    In addition, the bill provides funding for programs to increase public
awareness of the dangers of trafficking in foreign communities where it is
widespread and directs the U.S. Agency for International Development to
target the same communities for development projects as a means of
deterring trafficking.
  IPS-Inter Press Service

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