I want to thank Under Secretary Maria Otero for her leadership on this and so many of the global, transnational, cross-cutting issues that she is responsible for. And I think you certainly got a small taste of the passion and conviction that Ambassador Lou CdeBaca brings to this work. He is tireless and he, with his wonderful team, are working around the clock and around the world to heal wounds and to save lives, and I’m very grateful to Lou for his leadership and deep, deep commitment.
And because human trafficking unfortunately hurts women and girls disproportionately, Lou has worked closely for over a decade with Melanne Verveer, our Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. This is a natural partnership because trafficking isn’t just a problem of human bondage; it fuels the epidemic of gender-based violence in so many places – here in our country and around the world. So I thank our team at the State Department that has done so much to continue this work, and to make sure that we not only issue a report, which as Lou said, is just one part of the work. The report itself is a tool, and what we’re most interested in is working with countries around the world and working across our own government to get results. The decade of delivery is upon us.
And I know it’s not just our State Department and not just our Congress, but many of you in this room, many of you from other governments who have taken on this issue, many of you from the NGO community that have been on the frontlines standing up for millions of victims. Last year, I visited in Cambodia a place of healing and support, a shelter for survivors. I met with dozens of girls, most of them very young, who had been sexually exploited and abused. They had been given refuge at the shelter and they were learning valuable skills to help them reenter society. These girls wanted the same thing that every child wants – the opportunity to live, to learn, a safe place, people who cared about them. And not too long ago, a shelter like this would not have been available. The idea of trafficking in persons was as old as time. And it wasn’t particularly high on the list of important international issues. And certainly, speaking for my country until relatively recently, we were not investing the resources or raising the visibility of these issues, of these stories, of these young girls. There were so many attractive children at that shelter; lots of liveliness. There were some very withdrawn and set apart from the others.
And there was one little girl who had the biggest grin on her face, and then when I looked into that face, I saw that one of her eyes was badly disfigured. She had glasses on. And I asked one of the women running the shelters, I said, “What happened to her?” And she said, “Well, when she was sold into a brothel, she was even younger than she is now, and she basically fought back to protect herself against what was expected. So the brothel owner stabbed her in the eye with a large nail.” And there was this child whose spirit did not look as though it had been broken, who was determined to interact with people, but whose life had only been saved because of a concerted effort to rescue girls like her from the slavery they were experiencing.
The world began to change a little over 10 years ago, and certainly, I’m grateful for the work that my country has done, but I’m also very grateful for the work that so many of our partners have done as well. When my husband signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, we did have tools – we had tools to bring traffickers to justice and tools to provide victims with legal services and other support. Today, police officers, activists, and governments are coordinating their efforts so much more effectively. Thousands of victims have been liberated around the world, and thanks to special temporary visas, many of them are able to come to our country to have protection to testify against their perpetrators.
Every year, we come together to release this report, to take stock of our progress, to make suggestions, and to refine our methods. Today, we are releasing a new report that ranks 184 countries, including our own. One of the innovations when I became Secretary was we were going to also analyze and rank ourselves, because I don’t think it’s fair for us to rank others if we don’t look hard at who we are and what we’re doing. This report is the product of a collaborative process that involves ambassadors and embassies and NGOs as well as our team here in Washington. And it really does give us a snapshot about what’s happening. It shows us where political will and political leadership are making a difference.
Take the case of Bangladesh, for example: The minister of home affairs and joint secretary have drafted progressive legislation that promises to confront the traffickers behind thousands of Bangladeshi migrants to the Middle East and North Africa. Or the United Arab Emirates, where leaders are advancing initiatives to improve protections for migrant workers in the Gulf region. Or the case of Taiwan, where the director of immigration has taken steps to ensure that victims of trafficking are identified, provided immigration relief and work permits, and have the opportunity to recover from their ordeals.
Now, these achievements and so many more, which we highlight in the report, are certainly worthy of the recognition that they are given, but we all have to do more. Unfortunately, because of the ease of transportation and the global communications that can reach deep into villages with promises and pictures of what a better life might be, we now see that more human beings are exploited than before. There are as many as 27 million men, women, and children.
And governments have taken important steps, but we have to really mix the commitments with actions in order to get results. For example, the number of prosecutions worldwide has remained relatively static. And so the measure of success can no longer be whether a country has passed laws, because so many have in the last decade; now we have to make sure that laws are implemented and that countries are using the tools that have been created for that. And governments should work more closely with the private sector and use new supply chain monitoring techniques to let consumers know if their goods and services come from slavery-free, responsible sources. In partnership with the NGO community, we have to develop new mechanisms for shielding potential victims and bringing more perpetrators to justice.
Now it’s only fair that countries know why they have a certain ranking, and that we, then, take on the responsibility of working with countries to respond. So we are issuing concrete recommendations and providing technical assistance. This week, U.S. diplomats around the world will be meeting with their host country governments to review action plans and provide recommendations when needed. And I’m instructing our embassies and the trafficking office to intensify partnerships in the coming months so that every country that wishes to can improve its standing.
So while this report is encouraging more countries to come to the table, none of us can afford to be satisfied. Just because a so-called developed country has well-established rules, laws, and a strong criminal justice system, does not mean that any of us are doing everything we can. Even in these tight economic times, we need to look for creative ways to do better. And this goes for the United States, because we are shining a light on ourselves and we intend to do more in order to make our own situation better and help those who are interested in doing the same.
Our TIP – our TIP heroes today show us that individual action can lead to some astounding results. For example, in Singapore, Bridget Lew Tan has dedicated her life to protecting migrant workers. And Singapore, albeit a small country, has more than 800,000 immigrants. And she has been volunteering with a local archdiocese. And while there, she met 30 Bangladeshi men assembled behind a coffee shop in the middle of the night, and she helped to set up shelters – one for men and one for women – to provide refuge to migrant workers who had been abused.
Or take Mexico, where Mexico City Attorney General’s Office Deputy Prosecutor Dilcya Garcia tried a case in 2009 that resulted in the first trafficking sentence in Mexico. Since then, she has developed indictments against more than 100 alleged traffickers, and forged partnerships to provide comprehensive victim protection services.
Stories like these and the others you will hear about our TIP heroes give us hope, because they inspire us, but also tell us very practically what we can do to make a difference. And the story of all the victims really is one that should motivate all of us. And when we hear the stories of the TIP heroes, we know that it’s not hopeless, we know that it is not overwhelming, we know that person by person, we can make a difference.
I think a lot about that little girl that I met who finally was rescued. I don’t know what will happen in her life in the future. But many of the adult women who were working there themselves had been rescued, and now they were passing on to the next generation the support that they themselves had received. And the children that I met with, when I asked them, “What do you want to do when you grow up,” they wanted to do what children everywhere want to do – they wanted to be a teacher, they wanted to be mothers, they wanted to be the best that they could be. And that’s what we want for all of the world’s children.
So I am honored to be here with you. I thank all the countries who are here today. I thank all the leaders around the world who recognize that we can make progress by working together to end modern day slavery. And I particularly thank our heroes who have showed us it is possible despite the odds.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
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