US sees progress and touts 'heroes' in fight against slavery worldwide

More countries are taking modern-day slavery seriously and more people are being prosecuted, says the annual State Department report on Trafficking in Persons.

Cliff Owen/AP
Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton, center, and Luis Cdebaca, Ambassador at Large, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, left, look on as Raimi Vincent Paraiso, coordinator, ALTO, of Republic of Congo, speaks at the release of the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday.

Modern-day slavery is a scourge affecting more than 20 million people worldwide, but increasing global awareness and a growing determination in countries ranging from Myanmar to Nicaragua to address the issue are two reasons for optimism, according to a new report by the State Department.

The annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report finds that more countries are taking the problem of human trafficking seriously, with the number of traffickers convicted of the crime up, and with the number of victims identified and helped out of slavery last year – 42,291– up by 28 percent over 2010.

And if the world is taking the problem of modern-day slavery more seriously, it’s thanks to the scores of “heroes” in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, who are taking great risk to confront slavery in their countries, the report finds. It cites people like Mauritania’s Fatimata M’Baye, the African country’s first female lawyer who since 2007 has fought for and won passage of antislavery legislation.

Not stopping there, Ms. M’Baye has also pressed on with her efforts to see her country’s first conviction for child exploitation, and its first handing-down of a prison term under the antislavery laws she championed.

In unveiling the TIP report Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted that Sept. 22 will mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln’s declaration ending legalized slavery in the United States.

But she added that slavery remains a very real nightmare for millions of women, children, and men today, as evidenced by the numerous profiles offered in the lengthy report. “Their stories remind us of what kind of inhumane treatment we are still capable of as human beings," Clinton said. "Traffickers prey on the hopes and dreams of those seeking a better life, and our goal should be to put those hopes and dreams back within reach."

The report chronicles some of the most frequent forms of modern-day slavery: women forced into domestic work, men kept under threat of death in fields and on fishing boats, children forced into prostitution and armed conflict.

In reviewing the annual compilation of antislavery efforts with reporters, Luis Cdebaca, ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, said the increase in the number of victims of slavery identified around the world – up from an estimated 12 million in 2009 – is actually a “heartening” piece of data, because it is evidence that more governments are honestly assessing the problem and taking it seriously.

Other positive trends cited in the report: the growing number of prosecutions initiated, last year’s record number of convictions of traffickers, and notable progress in a number of Latin American countries and in some of Asia’s traditionally worst offenders.

“Still, there’s a long way to go,” Ambassador Cdebaca says.

The report places 17 countries in the worst category of complete non-compliance with international anti-trafficking standards. Among the worst offenders it cites are Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Sudan.

Kimberly Railey contributed to this report

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