Trafficking in Persons

The U.S. government estimates 600,000 to 800,000 men, women, and children are trafficked across international borders every year into slavery, including 14,500 to 17,500 into our own country. Some estimate the global number of trafficking victims to be in the millions — in domestic servitude, sex slavery, forced labor, child soldiers, child camel jockeys, and other brutal schemes.

US Efforts Against Trafficking

The U.S. Government condemns trafficking in persons and remains firmly committed to fighting this scourge and protecting victims who fall prey to traffickers. Our commitment to eradicate trafficking includes:

A compendium of these actions is compiled each year in the Assessment of U.S. Government Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons, which can be found online at This assessment highlights executive branch efforts to end modern-day slavery and makes recommendations for improvements in our efforts over the next year.

An important aspect of the U.S. effort is to strengthen law enforcement’s ability to investigate, prosecute, and punish violent crimes committed against children, including child sex tourism and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The PROTECT Act (Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003) was passed by the Congress in April 2003 and signed into law by President Bush. The act serves as a historic milestone for protecting children while severely punishing those who victimize young people. Of particular note, the PROTECT Act allows law enforcement officers to prosecute American citizens and legal permanent residents who travel abroad and commercially sexually abuse minors without having to prove prior intent to commit this crime. The law also strengthens the punishment of these child sex tourists. If convicted, child sex tourists now face up to 30 years’ imprisonment, an increase from the previous maximum of 15 years.

The PROTECT Act made several other changes to the law with a focus on protecting children from sexual predators, including: extending the statute of limitations for federal crimes involving the abduction or physical or sexual abuse of a child for the lifetime of the child; expanding the potential reach of federal sex trafficking prosecutions by extending federal jurisdiction to crimes committed in foreign commerce; establishing parallel penalty enhancements for the production of child pornography overseas; and, criminalizing actions to arrange or facilitate the travel of child sex tourists.

The State Department’s TIP Office is mandated to combat and eradicate human trafficking by focusing worldwide attention on the international slave trade; assisting countries to eliminate trafficking in persons; promoting regional and bilateral cooperation; and supporting service providers and NGOs active in trafficking prevention and victim protection efforts. The TIP Office also assists foreign governments in drafting or strengthening anti-trafficking laws and funds law enforcement and victim assistance training to foreign governments to ensure traffickers are fully investigated and prosecuted to final conviction.

The TIP Office supported more than 50 anti-trafficking programs abroad in fiscal year 2004. The types of assistance offered included economic alternative programs for vulnerable groups; education programs; training for government officials and medical personnel; development or improvement of anti-trafficking laws; provision of equipment for law enforcement; establishment or renovation of shelters, crisis centers, or safe houses for victims; support for voluntary and humane return and reintegration assistance for victims; deterrence projects to address the demand for sex trafficking; and support for psychological, legal, medical and counseling services for victims provided by NGOs, international organizations and governments.

The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) promotes orderly and humane migration, protects the human rights of vulnerable migrants, and provides assistance to migrants in need, especially victims of trafficking in persons. The Bureau supports anti-trafficking programs focusing on victim protection.

The ideal way to combat trafficking is to prevent the victimization of people in the first place. Because the United States is a destination country for trafficked people, prevention activities in which the U.S. Government engages abroad are particularly important.

Through the State Department, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Government offers a substantial amount of international assistance to help prevent trafficking in persons and to improve the treatment of victims and the prosecution of traffickers abroad. The State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons also is piloting programs to address the demand for victims of sex trafficking in Mexico, India, Cambodia, Costa Rica, and Thailand.

In fiscal year 2004, the U.S. Government supported approximately 251 international anti-trafficking programs totaling $82 million* and benefiting more than 86 countries. This amount reflects part of President Bush’s anti-trafficking initiative announced at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2003. The Government of the United States has invested approximately $295 million in anti-trafficking efforts over the last four fiscal years. These international programs run the gamut from small projects to large multi-million-dollar projects to develop comprehensive regional and national strategies to combat trafficking, improve law enforcement capacity to arrest and prosecute traffickers, enhance support to victims of trafficking, and increase awareness of at-risk populations and policy makers to trafficking.

Based on U.S. Government findings over many years of international development work, assistance that has had a positive impact on anti-trafficking efforts includes: development or improvement of anti-trafficking laws; provision of equipment for law enforcement; economic alternative programs for vulnerable groups; education programs addressing both the supply and demand sides of trafficking in persons; training for government officials and medical personnel; anti-corruption measures; establishment or renovation of shelters, crisis centers, or safe-houses for victims; establishment of hotlines, support for voluntary and humane return and reintegration assistance for victims; and support for psychological, legal, medical, and counseling services for victims provided by NGOs, international organizations, and governments.

The U.S. Government engages internationally through cooperation with countries that support the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which supplements the UN Convention Against Transnational and Organized Crime, adopted by the UN General Assembly in November 2000. The United States signed the Convention and Protocol in December 2000, and the President has submitted them to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification.

Three other international instruments that address the trafficking in children have been adopted — ILO Convention 182 concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (which the United States ratified in February 1999); the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (which the United States ratified in December 2002); and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (which the United States ratified in December 2002). The Department of Labor works with the ILO to bring international attention to countries’ obligations under ILO Convention 150, the Abolition of Forced Labor, as well.

NGOs have been vital to the U.S. effort to identify and help trafficking victims as well as to prosecute trafficking cases. The U.S. Government engages in extensive outreach to NGOs, which are often the first point of contact with trafficking victims. These contacts foster constructive relationships with groups that receive and shelter trafficking victims and are often in a position to encourage victims to come forward and report abuse. Additionally, in those situations in which law enforcement is actively involved in liberating victims from servitude, some NGOs can provide safe houses for the victims.

U.S. Government personnel have been working closely with NGOs across the country to train service providers on the provisions of the TVPA. Through such training, federal prosecutors, Federal Bureau of Investigation and ICE agents, immigration officials and Health and Human Services’ personnel have learned about potential new cases, acquired NGO assistance in procuring refuge and support for trafficking victims, educated NGOs on the requirements for identifying a victim of a severe form of trafficking, and trained service providers on the roles they can play to contribute toward the success of a trafficking investigation and prosecution.

The Department of Labor’s International Child Labor Program and the Office of Foreign Relations supported a number of efforts in fiscal year 2004 through nongovernmental and faith-based organizations, as well as the International Labor Organization’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor, that address trafficking in persons in 16 countries, either as the central focus of the project or a component of a broader project. These projects provide reintegration assistance to adult and child victims of trafficking for exploitive work situations. Project support includes enrollment possibilities in appropriate educational and vocational training programs, and linking adults to legitimate work through partnerships with local employers. Projects promote legislative and policy reform to address trafficking in persons at the local, national, and regional levels.

In February 2002, President Bush established a Cabinet-level Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The task force is chaired by the Secretary of State and includes the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Task Force’s responsibilities include coordination and implementation of the Administration’s anti-trafficking activities. In December 2003, the Task Force approved the formal establishment of the Senior Policy Operating Group on Trafficking in Persons (SPOG), chaired by the director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The purpose of the SPOG is to bring together senior policy officials from task force member agencies. This year the SPOG was responsible for a number of interagency policy developments including:

  • Coordination of U.S. agency strategic plans to address trafficking in persons;
  • Development and implementation of interagency grant policy and coordination guidelines to help implement the National Security Presidential Directive on trafficking in persons;
  • Coordination of public outreach and research efforts, including bringing attention to the dangers of trafficking in persons in South and Southeast Asia following the tsunami disaster; and
  • Coordination of the President’s $50 million anti-trafficking initiative.