Human Trafficking a Huge Problem for China, U.S. Officials Say

By Jane Morse
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - Human trafficking is a huge problem for China, both for Chinese seeking better lives overseas and for those within China, U.S. experts say.

"Chinese of both sexes migrate all over the world for low-skilled labor, and a significant number of these fall victim to involuntary servitude," or forced labor, according to Ambassador John R. Miller.  "There are also reports of involuntary servitude among migrant workers moving internally within China in search of economic opportunities."

Miller is the director of the U.S. State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and senior adviser on human trafficking to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  He spoke March 6 before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which monitors human rights and rule of law in China.  Created by Congress in October 2000, the commission, composed of members of Congress and senior administration officials, submits an annual report to the president.

Miller called human trafficking "modern-day slavery" that uses kidnapping, fraud and psychological and physical abuse to force men, women and children into labor and sexual exploitation.  Often linked to organized crime, human trafficking is a billion-dollar industry, according to estimates by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

A 2002 United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimate says there are approximately 250,000 victims of trafficking inside China alone. Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska and chairman of the commission, noted that many of the trafficking victims in China are North Korean refugees.

Steven Law, deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor and a member of the commission, said that although human trafficking is a worldwide phenomenon, the problem in China has some unique characteristics.

"China is stepping forward to address a broad range of human rights and worker rights issues, and the U.S. Department of Labor has provided technical support and other assistance for these efforts," Law said.  "Still, the interplay between forced marriage, one-child restrictions and rural-urban migration creates an atmosphere where human trafficking could explode unless proactive measures are taken now."  The Labor Department has contributed $164 million since 1995 to anti-trafficking projects worldwide, he said.

Miller said China has made "limited progress" in addressing human trafficking.  "Although the government has undertaken some efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking-related crime, much more needs to be done," he said.

The State Department official urged a "victim-centered" approach that emphasizes prevention, protection and prosecution.  Vulnerable people, especially women and children, he said, should be warned that promises of employment are often traps. Victims of trafficking should be provided protection via adequate shelter and care, and the traffickers should be prosecuted vigorously.  "The traffickers function as long as they operate beyond the law and between systems of enforcement" from region to region, he said.

Hagel, in his opening remarks, said the commission is concerned that China fell from "Tier 2" to "Tier 2 Watch Status" in the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report for 2005 because of inadequate protection of trafficking victims. The U.S. law mandates the annual international survey, which ranks countries in three tiers: Tier 1 indicates that a nation is in compliance with international standards; Tier 3 denotes countries that are not.  Tier 2 comprises countries that are demonstrating commitment to address their problems but have not yet achieved international standards; the Tier 2 "Watch List" consists of countries that might be vulnerable to an erosion of their efforts.

"The Chinese government must uphold international agreements and grant the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees unimpeded access to screen the refugee petitions of North Korean in China," he said.

Hagel said the Chinese government has not signed the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.

Miller added that human trafficking affects human rights, public health and international security.  The Bush administration is committed to ending the trade in human beings, he said.

"The Departments of State, Labor, Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services and the U.S. Agency for International Development are working together to combat this scourge both at home and abroad.  Since 2001, we have contributed approximately $375 million toward anti-trafficking programs and we are seeing results," the State Department official said.

"This 21st century struggle for freedom," Miller said, "is one we can and must win everywhere in the world."

Testimony from the March 6 commission hearing is available on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China's Web site.  The 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report is available on the State Department Web site.

For more on U.S. policy, see Human Trafficking.