Congress must recommit to the global fight against trafficking
Human trafficking is one of the great global challenges of our time. Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the scourge of trafficking, also known as modern slavery, was already victimizing millions of people in low-income communities, especially children and vulnerable migrants.
Now, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its latest Global Trafficking Report warns that the deterioration of economic conditions resulting from the pandemic will likely increase trafficking in persons, especially in low-income countries. The International Labor Organization (ILO) and UNICEF have reported an alarming rise in the related problem of hazardous child labor and predict this trend will continue through 2022.
Additionally, the 2021 Global Threat Assessment by WeProtect Global Alliance, says that the pandemic has had a huge impact on children and their online exposure to sexual exploitation, with evidence of an increase in live-streamed child sexual abuse for profit (a form of human trafficking) during the pandemic’s quarantine and lock-down periods.
The facts are clear: Modern slavery persists on a global scale.
Governments, including the United States, need to continue to fight it on a global level. Soon, the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP office) will release the 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, an annual account of governmental efforts worldwide to prevent trafficking, bring relief to victims, prosecute traffickers and support survivors of this brutal crime. Government officials, anti-trafficking advocates and legislatures around the globe will watch closely to see how their efforts will be assessed — and what capacity gaps have been widened by the impacts of the pandemic.
As we await this next installment of the TIP report, Congress must act to provide continued leadership for the anti-trafficking movement, as the State Department has been without a Senate-confirmed anti-trafficking ambassador since January 2021 and the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act has not been reauthorized since it lapsed in September 2021.
The State Department’s TIP report remains vital in the fight against human trafficking worldwide. It serves as the U.S. government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments in their efforts to address trafficking. The creation of the report involves anti-trafficking experts gathering data and discussing findings with government officials and civil society actors in 188 countries. Countries are then evaluated on their efforts (or lack thereof) to address trafficking.
International Justice Mission (IJM) has found the TIP report’s narratives and tier rankings are closely observed in many of the countries where we work and are influential with government officials. For example, in the Philippines, after the 2021 TIP report was released, the Interagency Council Against Trafficking — the central coordinating body that monitors the implementation of the country’s Anti-Human Trafficking Act — convened a special meeting with stakeholders to discuss the report’s recommendations and to form an action plan.
The TIP report can be an effective tool in driving real change for real people. But we also know that human trafficking enterprises thrive on broken justice systems. Congress’s interest in the issue, and its bipartisan action to fund the TIP office and protect the integrity of the TIP report, has proven invaluable in the work of IJM and other partner organizations around the world over many years. The TIP report and well-directed grants by the U.S. government have assisted in helping to direct the focus of justice systems throughout the world to combat the trafficking of persons. U.S. foreign assistance and diplomatic tools make a difference in this crucial fight.
That’s why Congress should reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee must hold a confirmation hearing for Cindy Dyer, President Biden’s nominee for ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons.
IJM’s frontline experience has demonstrated that perpetrators of human trafficking will only persist if the crime remains relatively risk-free. When government systems respond as they should to increase the risk of criminal sanction, word spreads and opportunistic offenders stop exploiting others. Communities see this and begin to trust their local justice system more. A virtuous cycle of perpetrator accountability, survivor-centered protection and the prevention of future crimes prevails.
If Congress chooses to act, the U.S. can ensure the world’s best resources go toward the prevention and alleviation of modern slavery around the world. And if it does not, what does that mean for the millions suffering from violent exploitation?
Nate King serves as director of U.S. congressional affairs for International Justice Mission (IJM). IJM is a global non-governmental organization (NGO) that protects people in poverty from violence.