WASHINGTON (March 9, 2005) – Human trafficking is a "modern-day form of slavery," according to an advocate for child victims of trafficking at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who offered recommendations to members of Congress today on ways to improve upon the significant steps taken in recent years to identify and assist victims.
"From the Catholic perspective, human trafficking represents a scourge on the earth which must be eradicated," said Julianne Duncan, director of children's services in the USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services.
In testimony today before the House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations, Duncan offered support for the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. The legislation would extend and update a law originally passed in 2000 and renewed in 2003 which established the United States' framework for responding to human trafficking.
At least 700,000 persons annually are trafficked within or across international boundaries. They are forced mainly from less-developed countries and regions, such as India, the former Soviet Union, Central and South America, and throughout Africa. They traverse the globe, ending in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Israel, Australia, Japan, Canada, and the United States.
It is estimated that as many as 17,000 individuals – as many as one-third of them children – each year are trafficked into the United States to work in the sex trade or as slave labor. Women and children have been forced to work in prostitution and child pornography rings, while men, women, and children have been forced into different types of manual labor, without pay or protection.
Duncan said the Catholic Church has placed the elimination of trafficking as an important public policy priority.
"We are working to raise awareness within the Catholic community about the problem, including trainings to help diocesan staff identify and assist victims of trafficking," Duncan told members of the subcommittee.
Duncan said that, based on the Church's experience in serving trafficking victims, the USCCB recommends several ideas for strengthening the continuum of services to victims and for identifying victims, especially child victims, and referring them for care:
- Funding for services should be increased and services should be made available to victims from the point they are rescued to the point they are self-sufficient and in good health. Duncan said currently "there exist gaps in funding and services … which should be addressed."
- More avenues should be created for the referral of victims for certification and services. "Although as many as 17,000 persons are trafficked into the United States each year, approximately 500 have been identified and certified since 2000," Duncan said. "This is primarily because of the lack of awareness among the general public, community organizations and groups, and local law enforcement authorities, which should improve in the months and years ahead. It is also because there exist only certain avenues for referral, mainly by federal authorities who apprehend and prosecute traffickers and who rescue victims."
- Federal agencies should better coordinate efforts, especially in the certification, protection, and care of victims. Duncan said the creation of an office in the State Department for trafficking issues has helped focus U.S. efforts in this area. However, "information on victims and prosecutions should be more readily shared between the agencies, and questions about implementation of the law should be jointly considered and addressed."
"While efforts to find and assist victims of trafficking have been pursued with commendable commitment over the last several years, I fear that children, as a group, have fallen through the cracks of these enforcement efforts," Duncan said.
She highlighted several provisions of the bill related to child victims, which she said the USCCB strongly supports:
- appointment of guardians ad litem for potential child trafficking victims;
- access to legal counsel for victims of trafficking;
- protection of victims of domestic trafficking in persons;
- prevention of trafficking; and
- enhanced efforts to combat trafficking.
"The historic passage of trafficking legislation in 2000 established the framework for the U.S. response and places the United States as a moral leader in the effort to eradicate the scourge of trafficking from the face of the earth," she said. "Reauthorization of the legislation in 2005 would represent another positive step."