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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2729

Ambassador Blake’s Urges Continued Vigilance in Combating Human Trafficking

Colombo, 09 March, ( U S Ambassador William Blake urged continued vigilance while applauding the hard work of so many groups in Sri Lanka, such as the National Child Protection Authority, Department of Probation and Child Care, Child and Women Desks of Sri Lanka Police Department, and Department of Labor who are striving protect the rights of women and children in Sri Lanka currently working abroad.

He commended the numerous local and international non-governmental organizations now collaborating with the government to inform civil society about human trafficking and rehabilitate its victims. He also warned that more needs to be done about the one million workers who are overwhelmingly women employed overseas from abuse and exploitation. He noted that private industry programs, such as Garments without Guilt, are working to create cruelty-free working conditions across the country.

Recently US Ambassador Blake addressed at the Community for Concern Human Trafficking Forum held at the Hilton Hotel, Colombo.

Full Text of Ambassador Blake's address is given below:

I would like to thank Community Concern for bringing us together today to encourage collaboration and coordination among government agencies, private industry and NGOs in combating the very serious issue of human trafficking in Sri Lanka.

At the outset let me thank Community Concern for all that they do to protect not only women and children from trafficking, but for all their efforts to provide, education, training, to the poor and less advantaged in Sri Lanka.

Sriyani and her family have mobilized significant funds from private donors in the U.S. and I often see American volunteers in their facilities who have traveled all the way from America to donate a week, or two or more of their time to help Community Concern’s important work.

We are here today to raise awareness and encourage joint action against human trafficking, the third largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world. It includes forced domestic labor, prostitution, or involuntary marriage, and even illegal organ theft.

This terrible crime takes place in many countries of the world, including the United States, which is why President Bush has made our country a leader in the fight against human trafficking and why the Attorney General prepares an annual report on U.S. efforts to stop it. The most recent of these reports estimated that 600,000-800,000 human beings are trafficked across international borders each year. 80% of them are women and girls.

In Sri Lanka, the migration of women to the Middle East for domestic work, child recruitment and child sex tourism have added to domestic human trafficking issues such as exploitation in domestic and some industrial labor, and trafficking related to free trade zones.

According to Sri Lanka’s Foreign Employment Bureau, about one million Sri Lankans work abroad, of whom 60 percent are women. Of these, 54 percent work as domestic workers and are subject to risks of abuse, sexual harassment, exploitation and forced labor, as are often the children they leave behind in Sri Lanka.

Workers’remittances, as the second largest source of foreign exchange in Sri Lanka, play a key role in the country’s economy. Our concern is not to reduce foreign employment opportunities, but rather to help ensure that workers are not placed in situations where they are abused and exploited.

A recent US State Department report found that although the Government of Sri Lanka is making efforts to comply with standards for the elimination of trafficking, there is much more to be done.

The Government has taken a number of important steps to address trafficking.

It amended its penal code in April 2006 to criminalize trafficking crimes in compliance with UN Trafficking Protocol standards.

It ratified the South Asian regional convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution.

It signed a Memorandums of Understanding on workers rights with Qatar in January and with the UAE in July 2007.

The Foreign Employment Bureau has been working to strengthen the contracts of workers going abroad and to improve training workers receive before they go.

The Government also co-hosted with the International Organization for Migration a Trafficking in Persons conference in December that brought together officials from across the Government, as well as concerned NGOs to raise awareness of the issue within the Government.

It opened in July a shelter in Kalutara for female victims of violence, including women abused during overseas employment.

Before Sri Lanka can make significant progress in identifying those responsible and holding them accountable for trafficking practices, it must have a clearer understanding of how and where these practices are taking place, and the number of victims affected. A better trained network of law enforcement professionals will also establish legal grounds under which instigators of trafficking can be identified and prosecuted under the law.

In support of this cause, the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development introduced a $500,000 program last October that will help train Government of Sri Lanka officials to pursue criminal investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenses more aggressively.

Implemented by our long-time partner, the International Organization on Migration, the program is training 500 law enforcement and government officials on human trafficking, improving methods of data collection and dissemination to track trafficking cases, and enhancing coordination among government and nongovernmental organizations.

In addition, the program will train more than 50 trainers, who will continue to build police capacity to combat trafficking long after these programs are finished. It will also establish a database to help prevent and identify trafficking incidences and assist the government and other interested agencies in focusing their efforts on where the need is greatest.

I applaud and encourage the continued hard work of so many groups present here today. The National Child Protection Authority, Department of Probation and Child Care, Child and Women Desks of Sri Lanka Police Department, and Department of Labor all work to protect the rights of women and children in Sri Lanka. Numerous local and international non-governmental organizations collaborate with the government to inform civil society about human trafficking and rehabilitate its victims. Private industry programs, such as Garments Without Guilt, are working to create cruelty-free working conditions across the country.

Still, significant needs exist, including increasing overall awareness of the issue and implementation of the existing laws. We hope the Government of Sri Lanka will continue to make training for its law enforcement officials a priority to identify trafficking as a crime, and that it will increase prosecutions of those found to be involved in the practice.

Through forums like today’s, we can develop collaboration among governmental organizations, private industry and NGOs to share experiences, establish joint work plans and develop a national policy to inform civil society about the seriousness of this terrible crime in Sri Lanka, train government at all levels to catch and prosecute perpetrators, and rehabilitate victims.

Together we can both combat human trafficking and reap the benefits of development and migration for the social and economic progress of Sri Lanka.

Thank you.

- Asian Tribune -

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