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Originally published Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 4:05 PM

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Editorial: Keep pressure on to fight human trafficking

Nearly every country has stepped up law-enforcement efforts against human and sex traffickers, thanks to diplomatic prodding by the U.S. State Department.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE U.S. State Department’s annual barometer of anti-trafficking efforts around the world is in. Of the 188 countries ranked in the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, nearly all are doing a better job identifying victims and going after their perpetrators.

Nearly every country or foreign territory has anti-trafficking criminal statutes. As a result, the number of identified victims is up 10 percent to 46,500 worldwide. The notion of fighting human and sex trafficking revolves around finding and helping victims. Spot it and stop it, says Secretary of State John Kerry.

Once victims are found, their perpetrators should be punished. The report notes a 20-percent rise, at 4,746, in worldwide convictions for human trafficking-related crimes.

Tiny numbers compared with the estimated 27 million people forced into prostitution or unpaid labor around the globe, but foreign governments are doing better at reaching for their obligation to stamp out human trafficking.

The State Department’s annual report is an important diplomatic tool required under the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Countries’ anti-trafficking efforts are tracked and rated on prevention, protection and prosecution. Rankings play a key role, identifying which countries the U.S. should follow up with diplomatic engagement, training and legal and technical advice.

Embarrassment over a low rating, or in some cases financial sanctions imposed by the U.S. because of a low rating, can pressure countries into doing more to fight human and sex trafficking crimes, says U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Cyprus added a forensic psychologist to its anti-trafficking police unit. Latvia has doubled the funding for victim services in the last three years. Iraq created a new anti-trafficking unit in the Ministry of Interior.

And Myanmar, which has long had state-sponsored forced labor, recently repealed the 1907 law that condoned such labor. It did so after pressure from international governments and labor organizations.

Anti-trafficking efforts in the U.S. are ongoing from Washington, D.C., to Washington state, giving this country the highest ranking. More can always be done. President Obama recently signed an executive order requiring the federal government, one of the biggest purchasers of consumer goods, to verify that no products were made with forced labor.

The U.S. should not let up the pressure on itself or other countries to end human and sex trafficking.

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