Obama signs TVPRA 2013 Marina Colby ECPAT

President Obama signs TVPA | Photo: Marina Colby, ECPAT USA

President Obama put his signature Thursday onto the cornerstone legislation that guides the federal government’s anti-slavery activities.

Reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was included in the renewed Violence Against Women Act. The combined bill passed Congress with bipartisan support in February. The bill signing was attended by hundreds of activists, government officials and tribal leaders.

“Today is about young women like Tye, who was brought into the sex trade by a neighbor when she was 12 years old,” the president said in remarks prepared for the bill signing. “

“Tye was rescued with the help of an organization led by trafficking survivors. Today, she’s enrolled in college. She’s working full-time to help at-risk girls stay out of the sex trade. Couldn’t be prouder of her. So proud of her,” Obama said. “So with this bill, we reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to help more girls turn out like Tye. That’s what today is all about.”

The president’s signature on the TVPA ends a multiyear struggle to win reauthorization for the law. It is now in force until 2017, according to the White House. But it’s important to note that a blueprint for action is not a budget. The anti-slavery movement will need to mobilize again when it comes time for federal appropriations.

Please stay tuned. We will likely need you to call, tweet, Facebook and e-mail your Congressional representatives again. Your involvement has made this happen. Thanks for your support.

And thanks to Marina Colby of ECPAT USA for sharing her personal photo of the bill signing!

tubman smallEarly March includes two key dates that remind us of the importance of women in the struggle for human rights.

Today, March 8th is International Women’s Day, a global observance of the contributions made by women who are working to improve the political, social and economic status of women throughout the world.

Sunday, March 10th is the day that an inspiring American woman died, one of the bravest, selfless heroes of the anti-slavery movement: Harriet Tubman. This year is the 100th anniversary of her passing.

School kids learn the name Harriet Tubman in high school history class.  She was born into a family of slaves in Maryland around 1820. At age 6, she was “rented out” as a house servant to neighbors. She suffered many years of abuse at the hands of slaveholders.

Tubman could not read or write, but she knew what she wanted — freedom. In 1849, she escaped to the free state of Pennsylvania.

Tubman could have spent the rest of her life in safety. Instead, she went on a daring quest to rescue other slaves, utilizing the network of secret routes and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Tubman returned to slave states in the South again and again, helping her own family and many others escape to the North. With each treacherous trip, she risked being captured or killed. She became one of the Railroad’s best “conductors.”

“No transit system ever devised could possibly surpass the ‘Underground Railroad’ for sheer nobility of purpose,” says historian Ron Soodalter, co-author with FTS Co-founder Kevin Bales of The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today.  “And no ‘conductor’ demonstrated greater courage and commitment to freedom than did Harriet Tubman,” Soodalter says.

As Tubman herself said, “I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” She’s credited with guiding over 300 slaves to freedom.

Today, Tubman’s legacy continues to inspire. It’s more than a chapter in American history. It lives on in the work of slavery survivors throughout the world who are now guiding others to freedom. You can see some of them on the FTS website — recipients of the Free the Slaves Harriet Tubman Freedom Award.

This is an important year of historic anniversaries. We’ve already been commemorating the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. This month, we note that the work of Harriet Tubman is part of the historical record of anti-slavery accomplishments that should never be forgotten.

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Many women in Nepal’s restaurants, dance bars and massage parlors are forced to have sex with customers. Photo: Peggy Callahan for Free the Slaves

Nepali officials have begun their first-ever systematic investigation of sex slavery inside Kathmandu restaurants and dance bars.

It’s raising hope that safety and freedom can be established for women who are secretly exploited and sexually harassed by owners and clients.

About 50,000 women and girls work in restaurants, dance bars and massage parlors in Nepal’s capital. Free the Slaves research has shown that nearly half of these workers have been forced to go out with customers or have sex with them at work.

In so-called “cabin restaurants,” known for their small private booths, women must satisfy customers’ every need behind drawn curtains. Many women told researchers that they were not allowed to quit.

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Cabin restaurants are known for small booths where customers exploit waitresses when the curtains are drawn. Photo: Peggy Callahan for Free the Slaves

In January, authorities conducted their first systematic inspections of entertainment venues, accompanied by representatives of FTS frontline partner organizations Shakti Samuha and the Alliance Against Trafficking Women and Children in Nepal (AATWIN).

Nepal’s Supreme Court issued a regulation against sexual harassment at entertainment venues in 2008.  Employers must pay the minimum wage and post a notice about worker rights.

But many establishments have ignored the ruling. It has required ongoing pressure by Nepali civil society organizations to get government officials into the streets to enforce the law. Activists have challenged government officials on live TV, and have even staged a sit-in at government offices to demand action.

The pressure has worked. The investigations are a major breakthrough, according to FTS Associate Programs Director Ginny Baumann.

“These initial inspections send out an important signal to the owners that authorities are ready to intervene,” Baumann says, “as well as showing the workers that their organized pressure on the authorities can get significant results.”

You can learn more about FTS projects in Nepal, as well as see the inside of a notorious “cabin restaurant,” in our documentary Turning the Tide: Fighting Slavery in Nepal.

Slavery in This Week’s News

We see slavery and trafficking stories throughout the world each week. It’s great news that journalists and bloggers are exposing the problem of slavery, and examining solutions to it. Awareness creates momentum for change. Here are 10 top stories that caught our eye:

1. The New York Times. “A Shift on Violence Against Women.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/28/opinion/a-shift-on-violence-against-women.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0

2. U.S. Department of Labor. “A Champion in the Fight against Child Labor.” http://social.dol.gov/blog/a-champion-in-the-fight-against-child-labor/

3. The Huffington Post. “Underground Trade Part Five: Taken into China (Human Trafficking).” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/phillip-martin/underground-trade-part-fi_b_2732142.html

4. The New York Times. “Children Toil in India´s Mines, Despite Legal Ban.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/world/asia/in-india-missing-school-to-work-in-the-mine.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0

5. Ghana Web. “60% of children in hazardous work found in agriculture.” http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=266011

6. The CNN Freedom Project. “Lincoln inspiring today’s anti-slave activists.” http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2013/02/27/lincoln-inspiring-todays-anti-slave-activists/

7. The Financial Times. “Samsung rejects child labour allegations.” http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/89cc545e-80fb-11e2-9908-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2MChUCXsD

8. The Examiner. “Database lets Britons find slave-owning ancestors.” http://washingtonexaminer.com/article/feed/2075320

9. UNICEF. “In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, helping children of the mines find a way out.” http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/drcongo_67998.html#sthash.v46HIDPK.dpuf

10. The Seattle Times. “Bipartisanship saves Violence Against Women Act.” http://blogs.seattletimes.com/opinionnw/2013/03/01/bipartisanship-saves-violence-against-women-act/

tvpa house passage screen captureThere is terrific news to report today.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA or S.47), which includes the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA or Title XII of S.47).

The House vote was 286 in favor to 138 opposed, showing strong bipartisan support for keeping the federal government’s anti-slavery efforts on track.

The Senate passed the bill earlier this month. It now goes to President Obama, who has indicated he will sign it.

“We strongly applaud the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act by the House and Senate,” says Free the Slaves Executive Director Maurice I. Middleberg. “This legislation is the cornerstone of the American effort to combat the horrors of human slavery and trafficking.”

FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg

FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg

“This action by the Congress and the president’s signature will send a strong message to people in slavery that help is on the way. It restores America’s reputation as a world leader in combating human trafficking at home and abroad,” Middleberg says.

The TVPA was first passed in 2000 to authorize a wide range of federal action to combat slavery at home and abroad — from prosecuting traffickers, to providing shelter for slavery survivors, to preventing vulnerable people from enslavement in the first place. It must be reauthorized every few years.

The bill had lapsed during the 112th Congress, which adjourned in January. Winning reauthorization for the law in the current 113th Congress has been a top priority for Free the Slaves and other organizations that are members of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST).

ATEST logoAdvocacy efforts behind the scenes by ATEST and its member organizations — and an overwhelming display of grassroots support for the TVPRA from people who contacted their congressional representatives this month — were critical.

Members of Congress responded. They attached the TVPRA to VAWA, and then shepherded the combined bill to final approval. Combining the two made sense — many of the factors that spark violence against women also lead to trafficking and modern-day slavery.

“This is an important step toward freedom for the millions of women, men and children around the globe who are trafficked into forced labor and sex slavery each year,” says David Abramowitz, director of ATEST and vice president for policy & government relations, Humanity United.

Thanks to all who took a stand by taking action!