A congressional subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday on the State Department's 2006 report on human trafficking around the world. British actress Julia Ormond, who is also a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations, told about meeting the victims of human trafficking in Ghana, India, Thailand and Cambodia.
The House subcommittee on human rights met to focus on human trafficking, which claims an estimated 800,000 victims around the world, mostly women and children.
Julia Ormond is the U.N.'s Goodwill Ambassador for the Abolition of Slavery and Human Trafficking. She told the subcommittee she has met girls as young as five who had been forced into prostitution, as clients increasingly seek virgins in the belief they will protect themselves from HIV / AIDS. Ormond said it is hard to appreciate the extent of the abuse.
"The reality is that not everyone survives this ordeal. These people are often functionally invisible. They lack either birth records through lack of birth registration or citizenship, or they lack legal status in a country. Not surprisingly, invisible people are incredibly disposable," she said.
Ormond hailed the work of non-governmental organizations in fighting human trafficking, but said nothing was as effective as governments that enforce their own laws to put an end to forced labor and sexual exploitation.
This year's State Department report listed Belize, Burma, Cuba, Iran, Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe as worst offenders, or Tier 3 countries, for failing to combat human trafficking. The State Department ranks countries into three groups, or tiers, with one being the best and three the worst.
Republican Congressman Christopher Smith criticized the State Department for not placing India in Tier 3, or worst offenders' list, for its massive problem with forced labor.
"India's placement on the Tier 2 watchlist for the third consecutive year, despite its failure to create a national law enforcement response to the crime of trafficking, and its blatant unwillingness to address the massive problems of bonded labor and trafficking-related corruption reeks of political considerations within the Department of State overriding the facts about human trafficking," he said.
In response, State Department official John Miller said India was not "gleeful" about the rating they received, and that the country has done some positive things. He said India is a friend, and the United States really wants to work with the Indian government on modern day slavery.
Congressman Smith also expressed concern about the World Cup soccer tournament in Germany serving as a magnet for forced prostitution. Miller said the German government was taking steps to prevent human trafficking.