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Child Trafficking and Labor Prevention Programs

Ambassador Mark P. Lagon, Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Remarks at InterAction
Washington, DC
September 16, 2008

Thank you, Anita, for your introduction as well as for your work at Save the Children Canada, including your great efforts in combating human trafficking and forced child labor. InterAction, as a coalition of NGOs, represents the lifeblood of the anti-trafficking movement. The U.S. Government could not possibly have any impact against human trafficking around the world—and at home—without the brave, diligent, relentless efforts of non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations feminist groups—the kinds of groups which make up InterAction. Thank you.

And, of course, I want to thank my friend and colleague Deputy Under Secretary Ponticelli for her fine remarks and for the inspiring work performed by the Department of Labor’s International Labor Affairs Bureau under her leadership. DOL programs to combat child labor and to provide remedial assistance for exploited children are at the cutting edge of our Government’s efforts to help children in distress around the world. DOL’s work complements in essential ways, the work we do at the Department of State to combat human trafficking. We value very highly our partnership with the Department of Labor. I am delighted to have the opportunity to join Charlie in addressing this distinguished audience today.

As director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking, I also chair an interagency working group that brings together some ten federal agencies all working on a different aspect of the modern-day slavery challenge: the Senior Policy Operating Group includes the Department of Labor. So, the departments employing Charlie and me speak to each other in an ongoing way regarding how to improve the anti-trafficking strategy. This is neither the first, nor last time when we will discuss this topic, but it is rare to be presenting publicly together so this is a pleasure.

I’d like to discuss the two major categories of trafficking, covered by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 because children are trafficked for both purposes: into labor and commercial sexual exploitation. The scope of the human trafficking problem is huge. The frequency of this crime, its brute inhumanity and its indifference to the most vulnerable among us, especially children, is staggering. Our Government estimates that some 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, 80% of these victims are female and up to 50% are children. Millions more are trafficked from one area to another within their own countries. There are reports that another 250,000 children are unlawfully exploited each day by state-run armies, paramilitaries and armed groups around the world. These children are used not only as combatants, but also as porters, laborers, domestics and sex slaves.

Human trafficking, where people are exploited for profit through force, fraud or coercion, is a dehumanizing crime which turns people into mere commodities. Globalization has fueled not only sex trafficking but also labor trafficking, including forced child labor. Unfortunately, most consumers have little or no knowledge of the supply chains and work conditions underlying the global market place. In the face of products entering the United States, our Government and American businesses face a major challenge in trying to ensure that complex supply chains are not tainted by forced labor. NGOs engaged in combating these forms of modern day slavery play an influential role in bringing these situations to light and in providing a voice to the many otherwise voiceless victims of human trafficking, especially exploited children. In the last two annual Trafficking in Persons Reports, produced by our office, the Department of State has shed more light on the alarming trend of trafficking for forced labor and forced child labor. We intend to keep the spotlight on these cruel practices.

Just listing some of the prominent sectors which have been characterized by forms of labor exploitation gives you a sense of the wide scope of this tragedy:

  • Children as young as 4-6 are forced to work in brick factories, in the garment industry, and in rice mills in South Asia.
  • There is widespread forced child labor in the cocoa industry in West Africa.
  • All over the world, we find children trafficked into begging. They are sometimes even deformed by traffickers so the children attract more sympathy—and money—from passers-by who take more pity on them if they are maimed.
  • Many school age children are forced to work in the Uzbek cotton fields.
  • Children have been trafficked internally, in China and forced into factories in Guangdong Province.
  • The trafficking of children into fishing and fish processing industries occurs around the world: from Ghana to Bangladesh to Thailand.

Children often have no ability at all to leave these exploitative situations. Moreover, crimes against children are particularly difficult to detect. It is too easy to hide victimized children in a basement, on a fishing boat, or in a distant field. And, children who are out of school are especially vulnerable to manipulation and coercion. Late last year, for example, we learned from our Embassy in New Delhi that an excellent anti-trafficking NGO which we have supported, the Global March Against Child Labor, uncovered evidence of children working in appalling conditions in an embroidery sweatshop in India. Fourteen children, all trafficked from an impoverished area in another region of India, were rescued. Wearing rags and underfed, they had been confined to a miserable workplace night and day. And, these children were sewing clothes for a subcontractor supplying a major U.S. clothing company.

The U.S. company responded quickly and appropriately. But to show you how difficult it is to stop such crimes, this is a company that has been a leader in international Corporate Social Responsibility efforts and was already employing some 90 auditors to monitor its supply chain. With the increased export demands brought about by globalization, there is a danger of companies “racing to the bottom” to find cheap labor—and children are often the cheapest. Given our huge market, Americans have to be particularly alert. Businesses, here and abroad, are simply going to have to work harder to uncover and eliminate such crimes in their supply chains. Our Government, in coming years, will have to remain committed to leading global efforts against human trafficking. And, civil society will need to continue promoting awareness of these crimes, especially in order to provide services to the victims.

The same vigilance will be required to combat child sex trafficking. Incredibly, an estimated two million children are currently being exploited around the world in the commercial sex trade. Studies, including a recent UN Study on Violence Against Children, suggest that child sex exploitation is increasing. Here, too, demand is an issue. Children are being trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation to fulfill the perverse, sadistic demand of abusers all over the world. These abusers are seeking ever younger children, operating at times under the misconception that young children are less likely to have HIV.

Yet, a Harvard School of Public Health study, funded in part by the Department of State, found that the rate of HIV infection exceeded 60% among girls under 15 who had been trafficked into brothels in India. This was considerably higher than the infection rate found among the total population of female sex trafficking victims. Young girls are more vulnerable to HIV, in fact, because their reproductive organs are less developed, and fragile.

When it comes to the exploitation of children, we believe these children need to be rescued. The State Department, through my office, initiated a 2-year grant agreement this month with an Indian NGO, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), to rescue children and provide rehabilitation assistance. Last spring, in one day, this NGO, working in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour, freed 208 children working in more than 120 establishments. The same NGO will engage in prevention work by forming People’s Vigilance Committees, composed of concerned citizens, in trafficking-prone districts. BBA also uses a performing troupe of former child labor slaves who travel through communities, performing and warning communities of trafficking tricks.

We hope to fund projects that advance the knowledge and practice of anti-trafficking efforts. For example, we recently supported a $1.7 million project that benefited over 400 trafficked and sexually exploited children in Cambodia. As a result, five faith-based organizations made significant improvements to their shelter care. Such services are critical because developing a nurturing and safe environment provides the opportunity for children who have been trafficked, for labor or sex exploitation, to recover from the abuse they have suffered and to reintegrate eventually into their communities. Education and skills training are obviously crucial in this regard, so that these children can grow into productive citizens and, above all, avoid being victimized again.

More information and research will enable anti-trafficking funds to be better used. Our office funded a research report on Child Sex Tourism, produced by the Protection Project at Johns Hopkins University to help us identify patterns and practices of tourists who go abroad to rape children.

Human trafficking, including forced labor, is obviously not just a moral issue. It is legally prohibited under U.S. law, and addressed in the 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which supplements the UN Transnational Organized Crime Convention. The TIP Protocol requires states parties to criminalize all forms of trafficking in persons.

While the U.S. has been leading the world with prosecutions and convictions of child sex tourists, we know there are many more predators out there. What’s worse, global prosecutions and convictions on the labor trafficking side have been infrequent. Governments, businesses and civil society all need to work together to raise awareness and to make sure that potential predators and exploiters think twice about their actions—knowing that our government and an increasing number of other governments are determined to hold them accountable under the law.

You should know that the U.S. Government does assess publicly our own performance here at home on combating human trafficking. This self-assessment is led by the Department of Justice and is an honest evaluation of our own efforts. It is available on the Department of Justice’s Web site. My office’s commitment to close cooperation extends not only to the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice, but to other offices at State, including the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) and our regional bureaus, and to the other Departments involved in these efforts at home and abroad.

Through our leadership of the Senior Policy Operating Group, an interagency working group involving some 10 federal departments and agencies, we seek to strengthen interagency cooperation and to ensure that our respective programs complement and reinforce each other. Moreover, we seek to work with our colleagues at DRL, USTR, and the Departments of Commerce and Labor to ensure that issues of forced labor and coercive child labor are taken into account when our country negotiates Free Trade Agreements and considers labor rights submissions under FTAs and the Generalized System of Preferences.

A much anticipated document is expected from the Department of Labor, which has been directed by Congress to publish a list of goods produced by forced labor or child labor in violation of international standards, along with the countries of origin of these goods. Hopefully, this list will help all of us focus on sectors and places where children are vulnerable to forced labor.

These are great challenges, but great challenges present great opportunities. I know that the U.S. Government can’t accomplish any part of the abolitionist agenda without working closely with the NGO community while seeking public/private partnerships with the business sector to combat the pandemic of human trafficking. By working together, inside and outside government, we can eradicate the evil which is child slavery in our time. Thank you.

Released on September 18, 2008

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