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Contemporary slavery

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted January 19, 2004

When President Bush delivered a speech in Britain last year, he made mention of that country's exemplary leaders who have influenced our own country including William Wilberforce and his untiring zeal to end the slave trade. Wilberforce's example influenced our own country's abolitionists. Many social conservatives, including myself, view the lifelong commitment that he
displayed to his cause as an inspiration for our own work.

Indeed, that zeal can be used right now to end a problem that many Americans would be shocked to learn exists. The slave trade is still flourishing today. The contemporary slave trade targets vulnerable and impressionable young people from underdeveloped countries. Quite frequently, these young people are being sold into prostitution.

Our own government estimates that at least 800,000 persons are trafficked across international borders, including - sadly - approximately 20,000 into the United States.

President Bush and his administration have demonstrated true leadership in seeking to end this predatory practice that undermines our own country's expressed belief in inalienable rights of life and liberty. A woman can be sold to a brothel owner in this country for thousands of dollars. And overseas a woman can be bought for about the same price as a kitchen blender - $40.

As the President told the United Nations General Assembly last fall, "The victims of [the] sex trade see little of life before they see the very worst of life: an underground of brutality and lonely fear."

What is particularly sad about the sexual slave trade is how the young, often living in poverty, are enticed to come to a developed country based on promises of riches and luxury only to find themselves forced into prostitution and poverty.

The story of Uzma is a typical case. Recruited to work in South Asia as a housekeeper in a Middle Eastern country, the male relatives of Uzma's employers repeatedly abused her sexually, essentially imprisoning her. Her employer had seized her papers. She was regularly beaten. Uzma was fortunate enough to escape, only to be picked up by the police who ordered her employer to send her back to her country. They did, but not before prostituting her for three days.

Through the efforts of President Bush and John Miller, the Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, a great deal of progress is being made in stopping sex trafficking. Following the release of a report by the State Department, President Bush announced in September that the governments of Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Greece, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Suriname, Turkey, and Uzbekistan have taken action to suppress the slave trafficking within their own borders. The initiatives implemented by these countries included new anti-trafficking legislation being drafted or signed into law, public information campaigns, and the development of anti-trafficking task forces.

Still, the countries of Burma, Cuba, North Korea, Liberia and Sudan have failed to take appropriate action to halt trafficking.

Just last month the Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003 that was authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). It granted victims of sexual trafficking the right to sue their captors. Earlier in the year President Bush signed the PROTECT Act that made it illegal for any person to come to the United States - or for any citizen of our country to travel abroad - for sex tourism involving children. These two measures have helped law enforcement and victims fight back against the sex traffickers.

The Salvation Army, Prison Ministries Fellowship, Coalitions for America (of which I am founder and national chairman), International Justice Mission, Concerned Women for America, the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission along with other religious and political organizations have formed an effective coalition to fight this heinous practice.

Decent people cannot sit idly by and tolerate the destruction of innocent lives. It is every citizen's duty to pressure their leaders to put harsh laws on the books and to see that they are enforced. Fortunately for us, the efforts of John Miller, Rep. Chris Smith, and countless others have put the United States clearly against the exploitation of the young and vulnerable. Social conservatives owe them and President Bush our thanks.

The exploiters are still very active despite the new laws and it will take many people with the passion of Wilberforce to put an end to their evil. There can be no sugarcoating the odds. This is a long, hard fight. Fortunately, there are such people out there who have the zeal to end this immoral practice and who can be effective when given the necessary resources and laws.

When you think about the young men and women - their whole lives ahead of them - who are forced to live in grinding poverty and degradation, you will realize that this war must be fought, and it must be won.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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