As of today, a bill reauthorizing the U.S fight against human trafficking at home and abroad is making its way through the congress. The trafficking victim’s protection act (TVPA) of 2000 is helping the world make progress against the scourge that affects an estimated 21 million children and adults worldwide. This law has been for America, a remarkable demonstration of Power.
Human trafficking also known as trafficking in persons (TIP), is a modern-day form of slavery. It is a crime under federal and international law; it is also a crime in every state in the United States.
Federal Anti-Trafficking Laws
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 is the first comprehensive federal law to address trafficking in persons. The law provides a three-pronged approach that includes prevention, protection, and prosecution. The TVPA was reauthorized through the Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act (TVPRA) of 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013.
Under U.S. federal law, “severe forms of trafficking in persons” includes both sex trafficking and labor trafficking:
Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age (22 USC § 7102).
Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery, (22 USC § 7102).
It is worthy to note of note that strengthening and continuous renewal of the human trafficking law is totally in the hands of the legislators. The law uses a unique method to pressure governments to take action. Every summer the State Department publishes a report that describes the efforts of governments around the world to combat trafficking. The report is unique in that every country is graded publicly on its efforts.
High-performing countries are branded Tier One (such as South Korea, France and the Bahamas), struggling countries, Tier Two (Dominican Republic, Mexico and Lithuania, for example), and outright failing countries, Tier Three (China, Syria and North Korea, for example). Countries on the verge of failing are placed on the “Watch List,” which includes Iraq, Nigeria and Thailand.
Many countries take notice. It is not because they worry about the sanctions that the policy could unleash — such punishments are routinely waived. Rather, countries react largely because they don’t want to be stigmatized. They dislike being publicly singled out as low performers and they particularly dislike looking worse than their peers — a fact revealed in their frequent and explicit self-comparison with others.
To avoid this, governments become receptive to U.S. advice, assistance and pressure.
The policy also engages nonprofit organizations and media, creating domestic pressure to improve. In my survey of nearly 500 anti-trafficking NGOs around the world, two-thirds recognized the U.S. influence as important in their countries and view U.S. efforts positively.
The way many countries react shows that they care about their reputation. Time after time, officials discuss the tier ratings with U.S. diplomats, seeking to improve their score, worrying that they won’t. Sometimes top officials defend their government’s record in the media. Their efforts to save face suggest these grades are really getting to them. Even allies like Israel have felt the sting and responded.
However, to continue to succeed, the grades must be fair. The office writing the report is under constant pressure to grade countries of strategic importance more favorably. While some such pressure is inevitable, strengthening the independence of the office and increasing the specificity of what is required for each tier can mitigate this problem. It’s not too late. Past years have seen some slips, but for the sake of the victims, the credibility of the report can, and must, be bolstered. This re-authorization act does just that.
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