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2 bills on sex trafficking set for Senate consideration

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider two bills designed to contend with the growing problem of international sexual trafficking in women and children.

Sens. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., and Paul Wellstone, D.-Minn., announced April 12 their intention to introduce separate bills, saying, however, they would both support whichever bill is approved by the committee.

Their bills are similar, with one significant exception. Brownback’s legislation calls for mandatory sanctions on nonhumanitarian aid to countries that fail to make a good-faith effort to combat sex trafficking. Under Brownback’s bill, the president has the authority to waive such sanctions. Wellstone’s bill leaves the matter of economic sanctions to the discretion of the president.

A House of Representatives version, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (H.R. 3244), provides, like Brownback’s, for mandatory sanctions, with the president possessing waiver authority. The House version has been approved by the International Relations and Judiciary committees.

“We support both members in their efforts to address this critical issue,” said Shannon Royce, legislative counsel of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “However, we feel that the mandatory sanctions requirement in the Brownback bill is essential in final legislation.”

Both Senate versions strengthen criminal penalties against traffickers, provide increased protection for trafficking victims and change immigration laws to discourage quick deportation of victims.

Each year, from 1 million to 2 million women and children are victims of trafficking worldwide, according to the U.S. State Department. It is estimated about 50,000 sex-trade victims are brought into this country each year.

The Foreign Relations Committee’s Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Subcommittee, which Brownback chairs and on which Wellstone is the ranking minority member, has held two hearings on the trafficking problem. Victims from Mexico and Russia have been among the witnesses.

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