WASHINGTON – In an op-ed in The Tennessean today, U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writes about the need for the United States to lead a bold vision to eradicate the insidious practice of modern slavery and his bipartisan legislation, The End Modern Slavery Initiative Act, which would create a focused effort in concert with the private sector and foreign governments to address this widespread epidemic.
The Tennessean (Corker Op-ed): We can end human slavery once and for all
By Bob Corker, February 27, 2015 - It isn't often splashed across the front pages or the nightly news. It isn't something everyone even realizes exists today in the 21st century. But it's destroying lives and tearing apart families across the globe. It is modern slavery and it is more pervasive than ever in our history.
I believe we can end it.
Despite the fact that slavery and human trafficking are illegal in every corner of the world, they exist in more than 165 countries, including our own, and thrive most where enforcement is weak.
The time has come for the United States, as the beacon of freedom, to lead a bold vision for eradicating this insidious practice that preys on the most innocent among us. But to do that, we need to understand the plight of victims and why this crime goes unpunished in so many places.
Parents desperate to provide for their impoverished family are approached by a person offering to educate their young son. All that is expected of the son in return is a few hours a day working in the local fishing business. The parents accept, hoping this could be the chance for their child to live a better life.
Reality is far different. Instead of going to school, the child is forced to work 17 hours a day under dangerous conditions with limited food. Abused and malnourished, he faces harsh punishment if he tries to escape and is unlikely to ever see his family again.
This is life in the modern slave trade on Ghana's Lake Volta and just one example of millions of stories playing out across the world.
Rather than holding a schoolbook, children in India are stacking bricks. Rather than sitting in a classroom, young girls in the Philippines are sitting in brothels forced into sexual servitude. And worldwide, men and women hoping only to better the lives of their families are stripped of their passports and trafficked for labor.
More than 27 million people currently are trapped in this multibillion-dollar slave trade industry. These are daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, living in slavery today.
According to the nongovernmental organization Free the Slaves, forced sexual servitude accounts for 26 percent of modern slavery and forced labor accounts for 74 percent of victims, 55 percent of which are women and girls. Over the past year, our office has been working with various agencies, nongovernmental organizations and faith-based institutions to find out how we can be more effective in the fight against modern slavery. Last August, I visited Southeast Asia to get a firsthand look at this issue and meet with brave survivors. Hearing their horror stories challenges every moral fiber in you to find a way to act.
And as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I held hearings this year to shed a light on this issue and examine ways the United States can lead.
We learned that slavery is a crime of opportunity, flourishing where enforcement is lax or nonexistent. The State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons Report found that in the three countries with more than half the world's enslaved population, there were zero prosecutions for slavery-related crimes in 2013.
Fortunately, efforts to improve local law enforcement have shown dramatic results. In the Philippines city of Cebu, a project overseen by the International Justice Mission observed a 79 percent drop in victims of the illegal child sex trade after a significant number of arrests.
While we are beginning to see some successful methods, what is missing is a collaborative, international initiative to meet this growing challenge head-on and take our efforts to the next level.
This week, I introduced The End Modern Slavery Initiative Act, bold, bipartisan legislation that would create a focused effort in concert with the private sector and foreign governments to eliminate modern slavery worldwide. On Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the bill, taking us one step closer to turning awareness into real action.
This legislation would establish the End Slavery Initiative Foundation, a private, nonprofit grant-making institution to verifiably and sustainably reduce modern slavery in the areas where the fund operates. A U.S. investment of $251 million over eight years would help the initiative raise a total of $1.5 billion, of which $500 million would come from other foreign governments and $750 million from private sources. Use of U.S. funds would be restricted until the matching funds have been raised from other countries and the private sector. And results would matter. Projects would be required to meet strict benchmarks, including a 50 percent reduction in slavery within the target populations where the fund operates.
This model is designed to leverage limited foreign aid dollars and galvanize tremendous support and investment from the public sector, philanthropic organizations and the private sector to focus resources responsibly where this crime is most prevalent.
Success abroad also can lead to success at home. Stopping perpetrators of slavery overseas can help prevent them from exporting their crime to the United States. This legislation can also complement other proposals in Congress focused on addressing human trafficking within our country, and I look forward to working with members on those efforts as well.
There are many complex problems facing this country that demand our attention, but perhaps none whose existence threatens the very concept of what it means to live in a free society. Ending modern slavery will not come easy, but we have a moral obligation to try.
Bob Corker is a Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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