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Bush firms policy on human trafficking | (UPI) -- President George W. Bush has signed a national security directive solidifying the United States' commitment to stemming flow of human trafficking of women and children who are often forced into prostitution, pornography or unpaid labor in foreign countries.

"The United States is committed to the eradication of human trafficking both domestically and abroad. It is a crime that is an affront to human dignity," the White House said in a released statement.

It is the first time a president has signed a directive focused strictly on the problem of global human trafficking and which establishes the United States' blueprint for trafficking prevention and eradication, said White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan.

The directive comes as the U.S. Department of State hosts an international conference on fighting the global sex trafficking industry. The congressionally mandated summit has brought together immigration officials, law enforcement, judges and former victims from 120 nations to highlight strategies to prevent trafficking in humans.

The White House estimates between 700,000 and 4 million people -- mostly women and children -- are trafficked each year. They are lured from their homes with promises of well-paying jobs. Deprived of their opportunity to return home, they are coerced into working as prostitutes, domestics, farm or factory workers or in other types of forced labor.

The U.S. State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons reports that the practice also takes other forms, including the abduction of children and their conscription into government forces or rebel armies.

A 2002 State Department report on human trafficking calls Afghanistan a country of origin and transit for women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation and labor, particularly when the Taliban was in power. However, reports of Afghan women and children being trafficked into Pakistan and the Middle East have continued since the Afghan Interim Authority took control in late 2001. The agency said there have also been numerous reports that poor Afghan families have sold their children into forced sexual exploitation, marriage and labor.

Human Rights Watch has reported that traffickers use deception, fraud, intimidation, isolation, threats and debt bondage to control their victims. It said that in many cases governments threat victims as illegal aliens, criminals or both. For example, victims from Thailand who are shepherded into Japan are detained as illegal aliens and deported with a five-year ban on re-entering the country, the human rights watchdog organization said.

The group found that the women and girls were mostly trafficked from Moldavia, Romania, and the Ukraine and they reported physical brutality at the hands of traffickers while on their way to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many of the women and girls, ranging in age from 17 to 37 years old, believed they were going to Italy or other Western European countries to work legally. Human Rights Watch said victim testimony about abuse was confirmed by internal reports of the International Police Task Force and local police, according to a report compiled in 2002.

The Protection Project, a human rights research institute, based at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, documents the problem and tracks international laws on trafficking. The group found that women and children are trafficked into the United States from more than 49 countries. State Department analysts suggest that an equal number of women and children come from Asia, Central and South America, Russia and the newly independent states and Eastern Europe. Trafficking activities into the United States use both Mexico and Canada as transit points, according to the Protection Project.

Several U.S. government agencies have taken a role in preventing trafficking and making women in foreign countries aware of the dangers.

-- The Justice Department has prosecuted 76 individuals for trafficking in 2001 and 2002. It has 125 open investigations, nearly twice as many as in January 2001, officials said. The agency has conducted training for prosecutors and agencies and held its first summit on protecting children from prostitution.

-- The Immigration and Naturalization Service issues the "T" visa to enable victims of human trade live and work legally in the United States for three years while their cases are investigated and prosecuted.

-- The Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services are working to certify victims so they can receive state and federal benefits and services including employment authorization, housing and medical care.

-- The Department of Labor negotiated a $1.2 million cooperative agreement with a non-governmental group to conduct a two-year anti-trafficking project in Eastern Europe. The program aims to prevent the trafficking of women by creating economic alternatives for at-risk women in seven major cities.

-- The Department of Labor is also allowing victims to receive job training and other services without regard to their immigration status.

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