On February 1st, 1865, President Lincoln sent the 13th Amendment to the states for ratification, committing America to lead the fight against slavery and involuntary servitude. This week, as we concluded National Trafficking in Persons Awareness Month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton marked National Freedom Day by convening the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons(PITF). She was joined at the State Department by the Attorney General, the Secretaries of Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Labor, Health & Human Services, and Homeland Security, as well as the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the FBI, the USAID Administrator, the Chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and others. They discussed our nation’s efforts to fight the scourge of modern slavery and announced new initiatives to meet this challenge, both here at home and around the world.
Modern slavery is not a dry policy issue, but a tragedy with a human face. It happens in every country, and women and girls are affected not just in the sex industry, but also in labor trafficking – where physical and sexual abuse is rife. Too often, trafficked persons are treated as criminals rather than victims, and are prosecuted when they should be afforded protection. That’s why Secretary Clinton called on fellow Cabinet members to reexamine policies relating to victim services. Her goal is to have the interagency working group develop a government-wide strategy – both to raise public awareness of existing protections and to improve the way we protect trafficking victims in the United States.
During the meeting, the Cabinet members were moved by the plight of girls, who are particularly vulnerable to this crime. In places where children live amid civil strife or struggle to recover from disasters, traffickers aggressively prey on this vulnerable population. As Secretary Clinton and her colleagues discussed, the situation of these girls is grave—from gender based violence, to rape as a weapon of war, to child soldiering, to the suffering of Haitian domestic workers in the wake of the earthquake. So while we continue to step up efforts to bring the traffickers to justice, we must also give girls who have endured the horrors of modern slavery a chance to live up to their potential. The unprecedented degree of partnership and commitment that marked this year’s PITF meeting will help ensure that an entire generation of girls can grow up and thrive in a world without slavery.
Ambassador Luis CdeBaca directs the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Ambassador Melanne Verveer serves as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues