From The Toronto Star:
Obama’s inauguration was truly a turning of the page. Slavery is the deepest scar in American history. As an African American took the oath of office, that scar was finally healed. But as an old injustice was symbolically rectified, a new one was spreading around the globe.
Human trafficking of women, men and children for the purposes of forced labour and/or sexual exploitation occurs in most countries, including Canada. As the U.S. Action Group to End Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery said in its transition report to Obama: “The illicit commercialization of humanity is one of the largest criminal industries in the world, and the selling of children is the fastest growing global crime.”
The Obama administration will make this scourge a foreign policy priority. In her Senate confirmation hearings to become secretary of state, Hillary Clinton pledged “to do all that we can to end this modern form of slavery. We have sex slavery; we have wage slavery. And it is primarily a slavery of girls and women.”
Clinton is not alone in her concern. The Council of Europe has a strong convention on human trafficking, and Brazil has a national action plan for the eradication of slave labour. There is a potential international coalition willing to be led. Obama and Clinton can be the leaders of that coalition, and Canada should be the first to urge them to do so.
The Harper government may be lukewarm on the environment compared with Obama’s enthusiasm, but there is no disagreement on the importance of human trafficking. In February 2007, Conservative MP Joy Smith introduced motion C-153, which was passed unanimously in the House of Commons, on Canada’s need for a national strategy to combat human trafficking.
Smith also recently introduced a private member’s bill to amend the Criminal Code to include a mandatory minimum prison term of five years for the trafficking of children. Citing a case in which a man made more than $350,000 off a 15-year-old by daily exploiting her sexually, Smith declared: “I believe there is clearly need for Parliament to provide additional guidance to the courts on the trafficking of minors.”
Canadians are also active internationally. Brian McConaghy, a former forensic scientist with the RCMP, was involved in the first investigation and conviction of a Canadian international pedophile in Cambodia. He now directs the Ratanak Foundation, which tries to protect Cambodian children from sexual exploitation. McConaghy recently spoke in Toronto and described how dangerous this was; brothel owners have guns and are quite prepared to use them. But despite the threats, Cambodian children are being rescued and helped in rebuilding their lives.