A game-changer in the fight against modern day slavery

This week marked the introduction of an exciting innovation in international human rights policy: a public-private funding initiative to end global slavery.  On February 24, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), along with the Committee’s ranking Democrat Robert Menendez (N.J.) and 10 other cosponsors, introduced the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act of 2015 (S.553)

The End Modern Slavery Initiative creates an independent non-governmental organization that can receive funds from the U.S. and other government donors as well as private funders.  The bill authorizes $250 million in U.S. funds over seven years and ties grants to rigorous assessment of slavery prevalence and measurable outcomes. 

{mosads}Corker’s long-time interest in modern day slavery was heightened when his constituents in Tennessee raised the issue with him in early 2014. Corker’s SFRC staff has consistently brought up  the issue of trafficking and slavery with nominees who come before the Committee, and in August of 2014, the Chairman and two senior staff travelled to Manila to investigate the Philippines government’s efforts to eradicate child sex trafficking.  There, they met with a group of young Filipina women who had been rescued by the Philippines anti-trafficking police unit and restored with quality aftercare.  Several of them described to the Senator the crimes committed against them, exposing not only how violent and exploitive slavery is, but also that trafficking victims can be restored to productive and rewarding lives, given the care and services they deserve. 

At International Justice Mission (IJM), we work with local law enforcement and courts in developing communities that are home to the world’s poorest. By creating sustainable and effective public justice systems, we protect the poor and vulnerable from trafficking and other violent abuses. We’ve found that when laws are enforced and perpetrators are brought to justice, the bad guys are deterred.

Through anti-slavery casework, IJM has documented substantial reductions in the prevalence of human trafficking after modest investments in law enforcement. In Cebu, the Philippines, independent auditors documented a 79 percent reduction in the availability of minor girls in the commercial sex industry after four years of IJM partnership with local law enforcement, which included the apprehension of 77 perpetrators. IJM also documented dramatic reduction in the prevalence of child sex trafficking in Cambodia, where, over the course of a decade, professional policing by a dedicated anti-trafficking unit has transformed the sex industry in this poor country. A prevalence study by IJM in late 2012 revealed no children under fifteen being sold for sex and very few minors age 15-17 in commercial sex venues, just ten years after scores of young children were easily available for sexual exploitation on the streets of Phnom Penh.

The End Modern Slavery Initiative Act is designed to leverage limited US foreign aid dollars by requiring that U.S. contributions are matched with both public and private funding. While slavery is officially illegal in every country around the world, many governments lack the capacity and resources needed to actually enforce their laws. But through the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act, resources will be directed toward creating sustainable law enforcement capacity so that governments of slavery-burdened countries can actually take the fight to the traffickers and slave owners.

These resources will fund comprehensive anti-slavery programs in targeted countries to build best practice models that can be measured, replicated and taken to scale.

This Corker-Menendez initiative is a gust of fresh air in the anti-slavery space.  Americans across the political spectrum are revolted by modern-day slavery and want their government to do something about it. The End Modern Slavery Initiative Act of 2015 is the most important anti-slavery legislation since the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. If it is enacted and funded, it will make an inestimable contribution to ending one of the most durable and loathsome crimes in the human experience.

Burkhalter is the vice president of Government Relations and Advocacy for International Justice Mission, a global human rights organization that protects the poor from violence throughout the developing world by partnering with local authorities to rescue victims of violence, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors, and strengthen justice systems.

Tags Bob Corker Robert Menendez

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