Progress in Human Trafficking, but Work Remains

Around the world, governments have largely made progress in the battle against human trafficking over the last year, according to the U.S. State Department’s latest “Trafficking in Persons Report,” which for the first time included an analysis of American efforts. Human trafficking remains a massive worldwide problem, and efforts to address the scourge will never fully succeed until the root causes behind the trade are removed.

According to the report, more than 12 million men, women and children around the world have been trapped by traffickers into forced labor, debt bondage or prostitution. U.S. efforts placed it among countries doing the most to combat the trade. But the U.S. remains a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking, predominantly in agriculture, adult entertainment and manufacturing industries.

Cuba, Mauritania, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sudan were among the countries ranked lowest, with their lack of effort tantamount to ignoring the issue.

There were more than 4,000 trafficking-related convictions worldwide in 2009, a 40 percent increase over the previous year. But nearly a third of the 175 countries graded in the report have yet to pursue prosecution of a single accused trafficker.

“Behind these statistics on the pages are the struggles of real human beings, the tears of families who may never see their children again, the despair and indignity of those suffering under the worst forms of exploitation. And through this report we bear witness to their experience and commit ourselves to abolishing this horrible crime,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the press during the report’s release.

The United Kingdom took a direct hit for its efforts to address the problem this week, when the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, an umbrella coalition of rights groups, released a report (.pdf) charging that official policy actually increases the challenges to trafficking victims and protects perpetrators from prosecution.

Poverty is broadly recognized as the main driver behind trafficking, as desperate individuals and families seeking better economic futures become prime prey for traffickers. While legislation and enforcement can chip away at the ability of traffickers to ply their trade, poverty reduction and economic development programs in the developing world are keys to pursuing a broad permanent reduction in global trafficking.

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