About the author: Holly Burkhalter is Vice President of Government Relations for International Justice Mission
The sheer size of the State Department’s 11th Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, released this week, is a reflection of the enormity and ubiquity of the crime of modern day slavery. Yet there is much to celebrate in the document as well. Courage, recovery, and heroic leadership by ordinary people are springing up in almost every one of the 184 countries in the report.
The ten heroes honored in this year’s report show what can be done when brave people—from government officials to survivors themselves—engage in the fight against slavery. Slavery and trafficking aren’t inevitable. As the TIP Report shows in countries around the world, serious government effort and partnership with essential NGO’s can bring slave traders to justice.
Take for example Darlene Pajarito, an assistant city prosecutor in Zamboanga City in the Philippines. Ms. Pajarito not only secured the first anti-trafficking conviction in the Philippines but has spread the effort by training, supporting and prodding other government officials. This kind of courage can be very dangerous; Ms. Pajarito put herself in harm’s way to make her country safer for the poorest, youngest, and most vulnerable. The Philippines is a country that has made significant progress in combatting trafficking over the years. Prosecutor Parajito is an important part of the reason why.
The power of redemption can be seen in the work of Leonel Dubon, one of this year’s extraordinary TIP heroes. Mr. Dubon provides shelter and services for adolescent girls who were victimized in Guatemala’s sex trade. When his NGO sponsor ran out of money, Leonel used his own retirement funds to support fifty children in his care.
Personally, my favorite story of redemption involves a group of ten Vietnamese girls who were sold into Cambodian brothels nine years ago. International Justice Mission (IJM) learned of the girls in 2002 and went to local authorities to demand their rescue. It wasn’t until the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, Charles Ray, invoked the provisions of the newly-enacted Trafficking Victims Protection Act that the Cambodian authorities collaborated with my organization to rescue the children from brothels and apprehend the pimps, madams, and brothel owners who sold them.
At that time, there was very little aftercare capacity for such tiny children (the youngest was five; one was seven and had spent three years in the brothel), but NGO aftercare providers stepped in and the U.S. Government provided extensive assistance to create more facilities. Today, Cambodia has some of the best aftercare for young trafficking victims in the world. And while Cambodia has a ways to go to eliminate trafficking, the exploitation of very young children in prostitution has declined dramatically.
And the little girls? I am happy to tell you that they are well and happy and thriving. They live in small group homes with a house mother and have hopes and dreams of high school and college. Their future is now very, very bright.