Something good happened in Congress. No, really. Without much fanfare, Republicans and Democrats in the House worked together to reauthorize and improve the nation’s most comprehensive legislation against human trafficking.
Over the past decade, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act has laid the groundwork for this country’s efforts to combat the scourge of human trafficking in all its forms, whether forced labor, child labor, sex trafficking or child soldiers. More is needed. Relief organizations estimate that human trafficking has become a $32 billion worldwide industry that victimizes up to 4 million men, women and children every year.
No country, no state appears to be immune. The U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota is prosecuting possibly the largest sex trafficking ring in the country, which trapped Thai women into forced prostitution. Law enforcement needs all the tools it can get and this legislation, which ensures more than $500 million over four years, will help.
Some of those resources will go to victim services, so vital for protecting the exploited and getting them on a better path. But just as important, this newest version, dubbed the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Act, prioritizes prevention and, specifically, efforts targeted at reducing demand. The bill is named to honor Douglass’ lifelong work to end slavery.
U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., a supporter of the bill and a strong advocate for the elimination of human trafficking, also co-sponsored a bill that, within six months, would train employees across the Labor Department in detecting human trafficking and assisting local law enforcement.
When President Donald Trump has proposed a budget that would cut many areas of government, this reauthorization is an important shield.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board is encouraged about the specific language addressing the root causes of demand and the accountability provisions that seek “concrete, actual case studies of examples” that show how provisions in the law are being enforced. That’s necessary to ensure the funding is spent wisely. Also welcome is the emphasis on shutting off the pipeline of child soldiers some countries are relying on to prop up their diminishing armies. The legislation establishes that such activity is “unacceptable for any government or government-supported entity receiving U.S. aid.” The U.S. has already documented that Afghanistan uses children as combatants, servants and sex slaves, while South Sudan has used 16,000 children in its armed conflicts just in the past several years. That is intolerable, and the U.S. — and its taxpayers — cannot be a party to it.
Finally, the legislation also makes an effort to reduce the demand for child labor by stepping up efforts to bar importation of goods that make use of child laborers. We recognize that every country does not have the same prohibitions against child labor that the U.S. does, but this is a worthy goal to work toward. Many U.S. consumers do not want cheap goods at the price of what often amounts to child slavery. The Senate should adopt companion legislation soon and send it to Trump, who has voiced his commitment to “ending the horrific practice of human trafficking.”