Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Stopping the Sex Trade and Human Trafficking

Nicholas Kristof has another excellent piece in today's New York Times in which he shines a light on one of the world's more horrible, and underreported, problems: human trafficking and the illicit sex trade. Everyone should read this column. Some of the highlights:
In 2000, Congress passed landmark anti-trafficking legislation, backed by an unlikely coalition of evangelical Republicans and feminist Democrats. Even today, the Congressional leaders against trafficking include a conservative Republican, Senator Sam Brownback, and a liberal Democrat, Representative Carolyn Maloney.

But the heaviest lifting has been done by the State Department's tiny office on trafficking — for my money, one of the most effective units in the U.S. government. The office, led by a former Republican congressman, John Miller, is viewed with suspicion by some career diplomats who fear that simple-minded conservative nuts are mucking up relations with countries over a peripheral issue.

Yet Mr. Miller and his office wield their spotlight shrewdly. With firm backing from the White House (Mr. Bush made Mr. Miller an ambassador partly to help him in his bureaucratic battles), the office puts out an annual report that shames and bullies foreign governments into taking action against forced labor of all kinds.

Under pressure from the report, Cambodia prosecuted some traffickers (albeit while protecting brothels owned by government officials) and largely closed down the Svay Pak red-light district, where 10-year-olds used to be openly sold. Ecuador stepped up arrests of pimps and started a national public awareness campaign. Israel trained police to go after traffickers and worked with victims' home countries, like Belarus and Ukraine. And so on, country by country.

Some liberals object to the administration's requirement that aid groups declare their opposition to prostitution before they can get anti-trafficking funds. But in the past, without that requirement, U.S. funds occasionally went to groups promoting prostitution. And in any case, the requirement doesn't seem to have caused many problems on the ground (partly because aid groups sometimes dissemble to get money). In Zambia, India and Cambodia, I've seen U.S.-financed programs work closely with prostitutes and brothel owners when that is needed to get the job done.

Moreover, Ambassador Miller and his staff aren't squeamish prudes. Mr. Miller is sympathetic to the Swedish model: stop punishing prostitutes, but crack down on pimps and customers. He says that approach seems to have reduced more forced prostitution than just about any other strategy.

The backdrop is a ridiculously divisive debate among anti-trafficking activists about whether prostitution should be legalized. Whatever one thinks of that question, it's peripheral to the central challenge: vast numbers of underage girls are forced into brothels against their will, and many die of AIDS. On that crucial issue, Mr. Bush is leaving a legacy that he and America can be proud of.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This must be our # 1 priority.
No longer should a society allow this to occure.