Nicholas Kristoff provides some insights into the activities of the Bush administration against forced prostitution. 1
I'm guessing that President Bush's foreign policy will stand up about as well to the assessments of future historians as a baby gazelle to a pack of cheetahs.
Yet there is one area where Mr. Bush is making a historic contribution:
He is devoting much more money and attention to human trafficking than his predecessors. Just as one of Jimmy Carter's great legacies was putting human rights squarely on the international agenda, Mr. Bush is doing the same for slave labor.
We don't tend to think of trafficking as a top concern, so Mr. Bush hasn't gotten much credit. But it's difficult to think of a human rights issue that could be more important than sex trafficking and the other kinds of neo-slavery that engulf millions of people around the world, leaving many of them dead of AIDS by their early 20's.
My own epiphany came in 1989, when my wife and I lived in China and covered the crushing of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement. Arrests of dissidents were front-page news, but no one paid any attention as many tens of thousands of Chinese women and girls were kidnapped and sold each year by traffickers to become the unwilling wives of peasants.
Since then, I've seen the peddling of humans in many countries: the 8-year-old Filipino girl whose mother used to pull her out of school to rent to pedophiles; the terrified 14-year-old Vietnamese girl imprisoned in a brothel pending the sale of her virginity; the Pakistani teenager whose brothel's owner dealt with her resistance by drugging her into a stupor. The U.N. has estimated that 12.3 million people worldwide are caught in forced labor of one kind or another.
In an age of H.I.V., sex trafficking is particularly lethal. And for every political dissident who is locked up in a prison cell, hundreds of teenage girls are locked up in brothels and, in effect, sentenced to death by AIDS.
In 2000, Congress passed landmark anti-trafficking legislation, backed by an unlikely coalition of evangelical Republicans and feminist Democrats. Even today, the Congressional leaders against trafficking include a conservative Republican, Senator Sam Brownback, and a liberal Democrat, Representative Carolyn Maloney.
But the heaviest lifting has been done by the State Department's tiny office on trafficking - for my money, one of the most effective units in the U.S. government. The office, led by a former Republican congressman, John Miller, is viewed with suspicion by some career diplomats who fear that simple-minded conservative nuts are mucking up relations with countries over a peripheral issue.
Yet Mr. Miller and his office wield their spotlight shrewdly. With firm backing from the White House (Mr. Bush made Mr. Miller an ambassador partly to help him in his bureaucratic battles), the office puts out an annual report that shames and bullies foreign governments into taking action against forced labor of all kinds.
Under pressure from the report, Cambodia prosecuted some traffickers (albeit while protecting brothels owned by government officials) and largely closed down the Svay Pak red-light district, where 10-year-olds used to be openly sold. Ecuador stepped up arrests of pimps and started a national public awareness campaign. Israel trained police to go after traffickers and worked with victims' home countries, like Belarus and Ukraine. And so on, country by country.
Some liberals object to the administration's requirement that aid groups declare their opposition to prostitution before they can get anti-trafficking funds. But in the past, without that requirement, U.S. funds occasionally went to groups promoting prostitution. And in any case, the requirement doesn't seem to have caused many problems on the ground (partly because aid groups sometimes dissemble to get money). In Zambia, India and Cambodia, I've seen U.S.-financed programs work closely with prostitutes and brothel owners when that is needed to get the job done.
Moreover, Ambassador Miller and his staff aren't squeamish prudes. Mr. Miller is sympathetic to the Swedish model: stop punishing prostitutes, but crack down on pimps and customers. He says that approach seems to have reduced more forced prostitution than just about any other strategy.
The backdrop is a ridiculously divisive debate among anti-trafficking activists about whether prostitution should be legalized. Whatever one thinks of that question, it's peripheral to the central challenge: vast numbers of underage girls are forced into brothels against their will, and many die of AIDS. On that crucial issue, Mr. Bush is leaving a legacy that he and America can be proud of.1 Adapted from: Nicholas D. Kristof. "Bush Takes On the Brothels." The New York Times. May 9, 2006.
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