Last year I met a group of young girls in Cambodia living in a shelter for survivors of human trafficking. They wanted the same things we all desire for our children: the opportunity to live and learn in safety, to grow up free to fulfill their God-given potential. But for these girls, those basics seemed nearly insurmountable. They had already endured traumas that defy description and shock the conscience.
A decade since the United Nations adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, there are more slaves living in the world today than at any point in history. The story of those girls in Cambodia, and the many others like them around the world, should serve as a call to action for us all. It’s time to redouble our efforts and renew our resolve to end this scourge once and for all.
The United States has made combating human trafficking a priority at home and around the world. It devastates communities, undermines the rule of law, tears families apart, exploits the most vulnerable in society, and offends our most fundamental values.
Fighting slavery is part of who we are as a nation, but this crime affects us all individually as well. When we eat produce that was picked by enslaved hands, when we buy clothes stitched in sweatshops by unpaid workers, when we look the other way on street corners where prostitutes are forced to sell their own bodies, consciously or unconsciously, we all contribute to this crime. We must also all contribute to stopping it.
Over the last 10 years, governments around the world have joined this struggle. To date, more than 120 countries have adopted anti-trafficking laws consistent with the U.N. Protocol, which established the 3P Paradigm of prevention, protection, prosecution. That progress has been reflected in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which assesses government efforts to curb sex and labor trafficking.
This week we are releasing a new report ranking 184 countries and territories. It finds that we are at a critical moment in this struggle. The last 10 years have been a decade of development in which governments have made promises, forged partnerships, and put in place new legal mechanisms to make meaningful progress combating human trafficking. Yet despite this progress, worldwide the number of prosecutions has leveled off, victim identification is inadequate, and protection services are weak.
We cannot allow the momentum of the past decade to slow. Instead, it should be accelerated.
That’s why going forward, the measure of success for government action — including our own — cannot merely be whether legal frameworks and protection mechanisms exist, but whether those tools are being implemented effectively and are making a real difference for trafficking victims and survivors.
To live up to those promises, the next 10 years need to be a decade of delivery.
That means governments everywhere must improve their efforts to combat all forms of trafficking, whether for sex or labor, domestic or transnational, affecting men, women, or children. Criminal justice and law enforcement organizations should not only enforce existing anti-trafficking laws, but refine their methods to fight modern slavery in order to keep up with an evolving understanding of the crime.
Partnerships among governments can improve our ability to combat exploitation in all its forms, whether by cracking down on fraudulent recruitment practices in source countries, screening migrant populations for potential victims, or aggressively prosecuting those who hold individuals in compelled service. Recent developments in supply chain monitoring will allow governments to work with the private sector, so that consumers can know whether the goods and services they buy come from responsible sources. Around the world, governments and non-government organizations are innovating and collaborating on new practices to protect victims and punish their abusers. But that knowledge must be coupled with action.
This is a crime that affects every nation, including the United States, and every government must take responsibility for stopping it. In countries with well established rule of law, it is not enough to assume the legal system will just take care of this problem. We must take proactive steps in identifying victims, delivering justice, and providing survivors the support and protection they need. At the same time, those in developing countries cannot plead limited capacity as an excuse for an anemic response. We have seen that political will, creative solutions, and strong partnerships can help fill the void left by a lack of resources.
The story of those girls in the Cambodian shelter is heartbreaking, but it should also give us hope. Their experience shows how effective law enforcement, comprehensive protection measures, and the commitment of good people can bring victims out of the horror of slavery and help them live healthy and productive lives. The United States is committed to this goal. We will do our part to move from the decade of development to the decade of delivery. But we can’t do it alone. For the millions of people who toil in the shadows, unseen and unheard, all of us must make this effort a priority.
• Clinton is the U.S. secretary of state.