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July/August 2011
Vol. 36, No. 4


Human trafficking: Encouraging progress

The following article was written by Maryknoll Sister Mary Ann Smith, who participates in the Catholic Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

Human trafficking -- what many call modern day slavery -- is a shameful reality in the global community of the 21st century. For more than 20 years many religious and secular service organizations have educated themselves and others about this scourge in labor and commercial sex abuse markets. The members of the Catholic Coalition Against Human Trafficking, along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services (MRS/USCCB) have provided leadership for education and advocacy in their local communities as well as in legislatures at state and national levels.

Results have been encouraging in the past year or two. For example, "Safe Harbor" legislation, which decriminalizes children under 16 years old who have been sexually exploited, has been passed in Vermont and a similar bill is being debated in Minnesota. The coalition continues to advocate for inclusion of children under18 years old, the age of majority in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Some women religious have provided safe housing for survivors who break away from their abusers. ECPAT USA (Ending Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) has a "Child Survivor Health Project" which funds health services for sexually exploited youth that are not covered by other available services.

With the help of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility and the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Millennium St. Louis Hotel signed the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism. Radisson and Hilton hotels have also signed the Code which was inaugurated by UNICEF in September 2009, with Carlson Companies, Inc. as the first U.S. signatory. In March 2011 Delta Airlines became the first U.S. carrier to sign on. Almost 1,000 travel and tourism industry members have signed worldwide. Signatories agree to six basic criteria requiring them to educate and train employees, suppliers of goods and services, and customers about the issue. U.S. businesses have been slow to join but by supporting those that have we hope to encourage others to join.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to introduce the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act 2011 (TVPRA) this summer; the original bill from 1998 (TVPA) requires reauthorization every two years. The 2008 TVPRA went a long way to strengthen protections and improve services to foreign victims of human trafficking in the United States by helping fill some gaps in the continuum of care for victims.

MRS/USCCB is pressing several provisions to strengthen the TVPRA 2011 that concern unaccompanied children, including requiring the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to contract with NGOs with child welfare expertise to screen the children at U.S. borders and ports of entry; prohibiting return of the child if s/he would face threats to her/his life; effective follow-up care and other protections. The question of adequate funding resources is another area of concern.

The Child Protection Compact Act 2011 (S.185) would authorize the Secretary of State to provide assistance through grants, cooperative agreements, and/or contracts to countries with a significant prevalence of child trafficking. To receive these resources eligible countries must enter into a Child Protection Compact with the U.S. to support policies and programs to eradicate the trafficking of children.

The Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act (S.596) addresses the protection of domestic victims. This bill authorizes large block grants for law enforcement activities and direct services to survivors in six regionally diverse locations within the U.S. The grants would be awarded through an application process to locations that have a multi-disciplinary plan to combat the sex trafficking of minors. The bill also requires improvements to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system. The NCIC system is used by federal, state and local law enforcement to track information about missing, exploited and runaway children. It also requires that state welfare agencies have procedures to require reporting of missing or abducted children to law enforcement for entry into the NCIC.

St. Josephine Bakhita of Sudan, who was a trafficking victim, has been proposed as the patron saint of victims and survivors of human trafficking. Once free she resolved to work effectively to liberate girls and women from oppression and violence. With her inspiration we can do the same for today's victims and survivors.

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