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Coinciding with the release of its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, the U.S. Department of State honors individuals from around the world who have devoted their lives to fighting human trafficking. These TIP report heroes participated in a public question-and-answer round-table session on June 19 at the American Bar Association in Washington, D.C.
The heroes shared stories and best practices with the general public and engaged in conversations regarding their work and their perspectives on efforts to combat human trafficking worldwide.
“This year’s TIP report heroes have come from every region of the world,” said Mary Ellison, public engagement officer for the U.S. State Department. “And each hero has tirelessly worked to end modern slavery in his or her country.”
Ellison said the heroes have offered services and shelter to human trafficking victims, advocated for passage of laws, trained personnel from law enforcement and nongovernmental agencies, raised public awareness, improved criminal justice systems, increased governmental coordination, demanded severe penalties for traffickers and even faced traffickers in court.
Jhinna Pinchi, a TIP hero and survivor of two years of daily abuse, said through an interpreter that “justice is winning even though it was a slow process.”
Pinchi, who fought for four years to convince the court to accept her case, is now an advocate for human trafficking victims. “I did not give up,” she said. “Though there were many risks, it was all worth it.”
Three of Pinchi’s abusers were convicted of trafficking in persons in December 2013.
Along with Pinchi, individuals from nine other countries were honored as heroes. They include Gilbert Munda of the Democratic Republic of Congo; Bhanuja Sharan Lal of India; Elisabeth Sioufi of Lebanon; Tek Narayan Kunwar of Nepal; Beatrice Jedy-Agba of Nigeria; Myeongjin Ko of the Republic of Korea; Monica Boseff of Romania; Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews of Trinidad and Tobago; and Ta Ngoc Van of Vietnam.
All of the heroes agreed that more work should be done to close the gap between human trafficking laws and implementation.
“There is a wide gulf between law and the practice on the ground,” said Jedy-Agba. She explained that because of the social fabric of her nation, where sometimes it is acceptable for children as young as 7 or 8 years old to work in homes, there is a false perception about the meaning of human trafficking. “You can’t enslave a person because of their socioeconomic status,” she added.
The TIP report analyzes government policy and programs related to the crime of trafficking in persons.
“This report reveals the extent of modern-day slavery around the world and in the United States,” said James R. Silkenat, president of the American Bar Association. “Through Ambassador Luis CdeBaca’s leadership, we have an important resource for uncovering the global reach of human trafficking so that steps can be taken to eradicate it.”
Ellison said that since the establishment of the TIP report a decade ago, more than 100 governments have enacted human trafficking laws and many have established specialized law enforcement units, set up victim assistance programs and launched public awareness campaigns.
Summaries of the work of the TIP heroes are available online.
The ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking sponsored this program, and Chief Counsel Vivian Huelgo moderated the discussion.