[Stop-traffic] News/US: Congress takes aim at modern-day slavery

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/US: Congress takes aim at modern-day slavery
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Thu Nov 16 2000 - 10:22:49 EST

Congress takes aim at modern-day slavery
Traffickers in human cargo for sex trade or sweatshops will face tougher
By Gail Russell Chaddock
The Christian Science Monitor, Ocotber 18, 2000

WASHINGTON -- Bipartisan coalitions have not been a feature of the fiercely
partisan 106th Congress. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle came
together last week with nearly unanimous votes to curb the global scourge
of trafficking in persons.

 From Burmese girls lured to brothels in Thailand, Ukrainians to Bosnia, or
Nepalese to India - recent estimates range from hundreds of thousands to
millions of people forced into prostitution and sweatshops worldwide. That
includes as many as 50,000 people, mainly women and children, trafficked
into the United States each year.

"This is the most significant human rights legislation this Congress," says
Sen. Sam Brownback (R) of Kansas, a sponsor. "We're the first nation in the
world to go after sex trafficking aggressively and openly, both
domestically and internationally."

Until now, law enforcement efforts in the US and abroad have largely
punished the victims of trafficking, who are targeted as illegal aliens or
prostitutes. Those who go to the police for help are often deported without
further assistance, while traffickers escape or face only minor charges.

The new law ( H.R.1356 ) gives the president and US law enforcement tools
to go after traffickers and governments that allow them to operate with
impunity. These include:

* Tough penalties for traffickers, including life imprisonment for
sex-trafficking in children.

* Visas for trafficking victims who cooperate with law enforcement, capped
at 5,000 a year.

* Assistance for victims, regardless of their immigration status.

* Data collection and reporting on trafficking in the US and abroad.

* A requirement to withhold some forms of US foreign assistance from
countries that do not make significant efforts to address the problem.

For activists, who waited outside the Senate chambers during the historic
vote, the 95-to-0 tally signifies how far public thought has come toward
respecting the rights of women and children.

"Violence against women is not personal. It's not about culture or
ethnicity. It's a violation of basic human rights, and it should be
protected both nationally and internationally," says Eleanor Smeal,
president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, an advocacy group based in
Arlington, Va.

But lawmakers who sponsored this legislation say the unanimous vote belies
how difficult it was to move these issues forward.

"It took hundreds of hours of negotiation to get us here," said Sen. Paul
Wellstone (D) of Minnesota, who began working on international trafficking
three years ago, at the urging of his wife.

The trafficking bill was bundled with four others, including a ban on the
sale of alcohol over the Internet, compensation for victims of
international terrorism, "Aimee's Law" (which imposes sanctions on states
that grant early release to sexual predators who subsequently repeat the
crime), and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

House sponsors had to guide the bill in and out of four committees. Some
committee members balked at elements such as the new visa, which could
increase the level of US immigration. Others worried that mandatory US
sanctions on governments that turn a blind eye to trafficking within their
borders could undermine other foreign-policy goals. (The final version
limited sanctions to "nonhumanitarian" and "nontrade" US assistance, and
the president will be able to waive the requirement for national-security

"We wrote [this bill] to give the president maximum flexibility. He now has
many arrows in his quiver," says Rep. Christopher Smith (R) of New Jersey,
a lead sponsor.

The House passed the measure 371-to-1, and the president is expected to
sign it soon.

The problem of trafficking and forced labor has surged in recent years,
along with growth in the global economy. And experts say that it will take
a concerted effort from the Western world to roll it back.

"For all the lip service and good intentions, it is clear that most Western
governments are more concerned about the pirating of computer software or
the importing of counterfeit designer watches than about the modern slave
trade," says Kevin Bales, author of "Disposable People: New Slavery in the
Global Economy."

Sponsors say US resolve on this issue could change that pattern. "Overall,
globalization is a good thing. It leads to greater understanding," says
Senator Brownback. "But with everything, there are dark aspects.
Trafficking is one of the darkest, and we're beginning to deal with it."

Melanie Orhant
Stop-Traffic Moderator

Please contact me off-list for any questions about Stop-Traffic at

Women's Reproductive Health Initiative
Program for Appropriate Technology in Health

Stop-Traffic is an open, facilitated, international electronic list
funded by the Women's Reproductive Health Initiative of the Program
for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) that addresses human
rights abuses associated with trafficking in persons, with a strong
emphasis on public health. The focus of Stop-Traffic is the
trafficking in persons into sweatshop labor, domestic servitude,
forced prostitution, forced agricultural labor and coercive
mail-order bride arrangements. Trafficking in people for forced
labor is an ever-growing worldwide phenomena that affects the health
and well-being of millions of women, men and children.
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