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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > From the Under Secretary > Remarks, Testimony, and Releases from the Under Secretary > 2003 Remarks, Testimony, and Releases from the Under Secretary

Conference to Stop Child Trafficking: Modern-Day Slavery

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
Remarks to Trafficking in Persons conference, June 1-3, 2003
Helsinki, Finland
June 3, 2003

Good afternoon. Let me begin by thanking some of the people without whom this conference would not have been possible:

  • President Tarja Halonen of Finland.
  • President Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia.
  • Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki of Finland.
  • Ambassador Ulf Hjertonsson of Sweden.
  • Ambassador Adele Dion of Canada.
  • Congressman Chris Smith of the United States.
  • And last, but certainly not least, Ambassador Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, without whose inspiration and dedication this conference would never have become a reality.

Slavery and bondage are the reality for millions of children worldwide. Alarmingly, human trafficking -- and particularly trafficking in children -- continues and appears to be on the rise worldwide. Most nations of the world are touched by it in some way, especially impoverished countries where children are transported to distant lands and enslaved through labor or commercial sexual exploitation. Resource rich destination countries, like Finland and the United States, also are affected as we uncover criminal operations moving children into sexual slavery or involuntary servitude. Traffickers exploit the aspirations of those living in poverty and seeking better lives.
Civil conflicts and HIV/AIDS are dramatically increasing the number of orphans and displaced people. Civil conflict, political instability, famine, HIV/AIDS, and economic stagnation mean the number of individuals in desperate situations, particularly women and children, is growing. The dramatic rise in households headed by children may create fertile ground for traffickers. In Tanzania, 11% of children are orphans; 920,000 have lost at least one parent to HIV/AIDS and 165,000 children have lost both parents. South Africa’s Department of Health estimates there were 420,000 HIV/AIDS orphans in 2001; this number could increase to 1 million by 2005, according to Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund.
Increasing numbers of victims of commercial sexual exploitation are returned home with HIV/AIDs and other health problems, and increasing numbers of child prostitutes and street children are exposed to a whole range of diseases. Trafficked children are less likely to participate in immunization programs, defeating government efforts to eradicate early childhood diseases.
Trafficking in persons is one of the most heinous crimes plaguing our societies. It leaves no land untouched, including the United States. Anywhere between 20,000 and 50,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year, depending on the source. In addition, there are around 200,000 young people in America who may be victims of trafficking within the United States. The Government of the United States is firmly committed to combating trafficking in all its forms, ensuring criminals who engage in trafficking are aggressively investigated, swiftly prosecuted, and severely punished, and that victims are provided with the assistance they need.
We also are committed to working with concerned governments and non-governmental organizations dedicated to combating trafficking. This past February, we hosted a groundbreaking international conference on the fight against trafficking to bring together several hundred of the world’s most active, and most innovative, leaders in the field. Public and private sector leaders who are on the front lines in this struggle met to exchange ideas and learn from one another. Last week, we released a compilation of “best practices,” which we are sending to each conference participant. While the United States Government does not endorse every idea on the best practices list, the list does include a number of practical suggestions such as:

  • Providing special courts to handle child testimony, shelter, and rehabilitation services.
  • Establishing contact points in source, transit, and destination countries so that governments and non-governmental organizations know whom to contact in emergencies.
  • Providing trafficking victims who give testimony with adequate safety, privacy, legal and social assistance, and the right to reside in the prosecuting country. Those who work with children know that special arrangements need to be made for them to insure that they are not further traumatized by court proceedings.
  • Creating hotlines in every country to receive information on trafficking.
  • Coordinating policies of donor countries to avoid duplication of effort.
  • Creating and using tamper-resistant documents to identify children from birth.
  • Using sub-regional task forces to address various aspects of trafficking. For example, the Southeastern Europe task force meets twice yearly and includes both government and non-governmental representatives.

In addition to hosting this conference and thus facilitating networking among trafficking experts around the world, the Bush Administration has acted vigorously in the United States and internationally to eradicate trafficking:

We have vigorously enforced U.S. laws against all those who traffic in persons. The Justice Department has opened a significant number of trafficking investigations and prosecuted a record number of traffickers. From 2001 through 2002, the Justice Department more than doubled the number of prosecutions and convictions to 36. Those convicted have received stiff sentences, up to 10-12 years in prison in some cases.

We are working hard to identify, protect, and assist those victims exploited by traffickers, which includes the use of a special category of visas to allow them to remain in the United States. The first recipient of such a visa, called a T-visa, was a 3-year-old Thai boy who had been sold by his mother to a trafficker. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has granted such visas to trafficking victims.

There are many other current cases of children -- the Honduran children, for example, who were quickly transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services under a new trafficking minors’ program that allows the United States to find and provide shelter in a family-like environment, with food, clothing, medical needs, translation services, as well as an assessment of their education and speedy movement into proper educational facilities as soon as they are able.
We are supporting programs around the world to assist indigenous non-governmental organizations, international organizations, law enforcement, and foreign governments to prevent trafficking and improve their capacity to investigate, arrest, and prosecute trafficking, and to assist victims. Last year, we spent some $55 million on anti-trafficking programs in over 50 countries.
We are just getting started in our efforts and we seek to increase the number of prosecutions made and visas issued. The framework that guides our comprehensive approach to anti-trafficking activities is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. This law criminalizes the entire trafficking pipeline (from recruiters, transporters, to exploiters), increases the penalties from 5 years to 20 years, and contains a victim-centered approach that provides shelter and services for victims. The Act also restructured the way our government attacks trafficking.
At the highest level of our government, we were required by the Act to set up the President’s Interagency Task Force on Trafficking in Persons. The Task Force includes Cabinet Secretaries such as the Secretary of State, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and the National Security Advisor. In addition, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act created the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which coordinates U.S. assistance to prevention, protection, and prosecution, programs abroad and also compiles our yearly Trafficking in Persons Report.

President Bush has personally taken a leadership role in the fight against trafficking in persons by issuing the first ever National Security Presidential Directive on this issue. First and foremost, this Directive makes clear that the fight against trafficking in persons is a high priority for our government and acknowledges that there is political will at the highest levels to attack it. It stresses that vigorous law enforcement is important but also notes that a victim-centered approach is critical. It calls for strong diplomatic efforts, public outreach, and victim assistance. As part of this approach, we provide shelter and other benefits for trafficking victims in the United States. It directs all U.S. Government agencies to create a strategic plan and to work together to abolish trafficking. It also notes that prostitution is inherently harmful to men, women, and children.
We are aggressively fighting against trafficking in persons, and we want more countries to join us. Let me mention just a few of the innovative anti-trafficking programs that we support, and the results we have seen already:

  • In Albania, we support a variety of hard-hitting programs, including the Delta Force, a rapid reaction unit to intercept traffickers; an Organized Crime Unit, which has arrested child traffickers, including several public officials, and the Office of Internal Control within the Albanian police, which has investigated and arrested police officers for complicity in trafficking.

  • In Romania, we helped create and support SECI, the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative, a multi-lateral law enforcement effort involving fourteen countries in Southeastern Europe. To date, this initiative has had four successful operations resulting in the arrest and conviction of traffickers and the rescue and safe return of hundreds of young women and children. These operations are regional cooperative law enforcement efforts that entail 100% border checks, brothel and bar raids, and other concurrent multilateral and in-country law enforcement operations to break up trafficking rings and rescue victims. Another comparable initiative involving Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Moldova, and Azerbaijan is also getting underway.

  • The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration funds a program run by the International Organization on Migration for a rescue effort for children trafficked to work in rural Ghanaian fishing villages. The International Organization on Migration assists the fishermen to develop sustainable fisheries; the fishermen in turn release the children to the International Organization on Migration to repatriate to their families.

  • The State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons provided funding to the United Nations Crime Center to produce, translate, and distribute a public service announcement on child trafficking and labor.

  • The United States Agency for International Development supports the activities of a non-governmental organization in Tanzania to increase community awareness among children, parents, and police about trafficking and to improve strategies to combat child trafficking.

  • The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons funded the establishment of a safe house/shelter for non-Thai and hill tribe women and children near Chiang Mai, Thailand.

  • The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs sponsored a border security project in Albania. Six Department of Justice Advisors train officials and monitor port-of-entry operations at the airport and seaports.

  • The State Department’s Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs brings hundreds of International Visitors to the United States each year to learn about trafficking. International Visitors include government officials, non-governmental leaders, journalists and law enforcement officials.

These projects are some of the innovative kinds of anti-trafficking projects we support abroad.
Modern-day slavery violates the fundamental right of all persons to life, liberty, and to be free from slavery in all its forms. It undermines the rights of a child to grow up in the protective environment of a family and to be free from sexual abuse and exploitation. Trafficking also deprives thousands of children their lives every year.

I am here today to pledge to you that my government will not waver in its efforts to combat this modern day scourge. In the words of President Bush, “While working at home and abroad to raise awareness and to provide crucial assistance to victims, America is committed to helping eliminate this and all other forms of trafficking in persons.”
Thank you.


Released on June 4, 2003

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