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US Lawmakers Vote in Crackdown on International Sex Traff'icking

May 24, 2000 · 

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Published in The Foreign Post
(May 18 – 24, 2000)

WASHINGTON DC – Sordid tales of women and children tricked or forced into sexual slavery echoed in the United States House chamber last week as lawmakers approved a bill aimed at cracking down on global sex trafficking.

By voice vote, the US House of Representatives passed the measure, which also seeks to help up to two million people estimated to fall prey to such exploitation or forced labor each year, including 50,000 smuggled into the United States.

“The image of a young, innocent child being forcibly sold into the sex trade for the fiscal gain of one sick individual and the physical gain of another is tragic,” said Republican Representative Chris Smith, the bill’s author.

“The idea that we would allow it to go unpunished is even more so,” Smith, a member of the House International Relations committee and an outspoken supporter of human rights, commented the newsmen after the historic vote.

“It is intolerable that at the beginning of the 21 st century, people are still being sold into modern-day slavery,” said Representative Sam Gejdenson, the panel’s top Democrat and a key co-sponsor of the bill.

The measure would require the president, starting in 2002, to cut non-humanitarian aid to nations doing too little to battle sex trafficking, though he could waive such punishment on national security grounds.

It would also compel the US State Department, as part of its human rights reports, to list nations of origin, transit or destination of trafficking victims and assess governments’ efforts to combat the grim trade.

The initiative would authorize US$94.5 million over the next two years in aid to victims and foreign countries to fight various forms of trafficking and provide for assets forfeited by traffickers to go towards enforcing the legislation.

Similar initiatives have already been introduced in the US Senate.

Republican Senator Sam Brownback said that he and Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone — who have competing legislation — had ironed out most of their differences and that he was “optimistic” about swift passage.

A Wellstone aide said the Democrat hoped to make sanctions discretionary, while Brownback’s bill would make them mandator with a national security waiver.

The initiative would also create a new US visa category for sex-trafficking victims who cooperate with law enforcement. Up to 5,000 such visas would be available annually.

And it would double to 20 years the maximum penalty faced by those convicted of selling others into involuntary servitude and other traffickina crimes.

It also makes such crimes punishable by life imprisonment when they result in death or involve kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

By Olivier Knox

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