TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
January 19, 2000
Every day, in countries around the world, women and girls, desperate for
economic opportunity, and seeking to follow their dreams of a better life,
are lured from home by the promises of jobs and security. Sadly, though,
they too often find themselves trapped in a nightmare, imprisoned by employers,
mistreated, abused and often never seen nor heard from again.
Since the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, I have
been working to raise awareness of the heinous practice of buying and selling
women and children like commodities.
This week, representatives of over 100 countries, including the United States,
are meeting in Vienna to continue negotiating a United Nations treaty that
would protect these victims of trafficking and punish the perpetrators.
There are some who charge that international efforts to deal with trafficking
will somehow undermine laws designed to eliminate prostitution. This is
certainly not true. The U.S. government has made it absolutely clear that
our country will continue to support and enforce its laws and policies aimed
at ending prostitution in all its forms.
As the delegates debate the language of this vitally important treaty, it
is critical that we keep our eye on the real issue -- trafficking. Every
year, approximately 1 million women and girls are trafficked and sold into
a modern form of slavery. The State Department believes that 50,000 of them,
primarily from the former Soviet Union, Southeast Asia and Latin America,
end up right here in our own country. Here are just a few examples of trafficking
cases that have been prosecuted in American courts:
Teenage Mexican girls, promised jobs in restaurants, child care and landscaping,
enslaved and forced into prostitution in Florida and the Carolinas; Thai
women held captive and forced to work in sweatshops in California; and hearing-impaired
men and women from Mexico -- enslaved, beaten and forced to peddle trinkets
on the streets of New York and other cities.
No country is doing more than the United States to bring the worldwide trafficking
of women and girls out of the shadows and into the glare of public attention.
In the summer of 1997, I met with women leaders from Eastern and Central
Europe as well as victims' family members who, with tears in their eyes,
pleaded with me for help in dealing with this growing problem. Later that
year, in Lviv, Ukraine, I launched a new information campaign designed to
warn young women about the dangers posed by traffickers.
In March of 1998, I joined the President, Secretary of State Albright, Attorney
General Reno, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and a high-ranking member
of the Thai government for a White House announcement of a presidential
directive to prevent and deter trafficking and protect its victims.
Last Fall, in Istanbul, Turkey, at the meeting of the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe, I announced a $1 million U.S. commitment to combat
trafficking, and called for greater economic opportunities to prevent young
women from being driven into the hands of traffickers.
Our State Department is working in partnership with several foreign governments.
The Attorney General and the Secretary of Labor have established a Worker
Exploitation Task Force, which is actively investigating and prosecuting
trafficking cases in the United States.
And the administration is working with Congress to craft bipartisan legislation
to end trafficking by providing effective punishments for perpetrators and
protections for victims. Passing this legislation is critical if we are
to continue to make progress in fighting trafficking.
The draft U.N. treaty being debated in Vienna this week offers a unique
opportunity to bring the power of international consensus, backed by punishment
of the criminals and much-needed assistance for the victims, to the issue
In no way will it, as critics claim, weaken existing international law or
the laws of any individual nation. In fact, it will punish those who profit
from buying and selling human beings, and encourage countries to offer truly
unprecedented protections to the victims -- including the possibility of
lawful resident status, health care, shelter, restitution, and other tools
to rebuild their lives.
Every day, more women and girls are being sold into the sex industry, domestic
servitude, sweatshop labor, debt bondage and other forms of modern-day slavery.
These crimes are violations of human dignity, and the United States will
not rest until they are stopped.
We must not allow those who would distort the truth about this treaty derail
the process. If they do, the only winners will be the international criminals
who prey on desperate women and girls. The losers will be the victims of
trafficking who, unless we take steps to protect them now, will continue
to suffer unspeakable harm. They need our help. We must not let them down.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns,
visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
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