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Strong stance needed on sex trade, Land, others tell Bush

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United States should require Romania and Bulgaria to take action against sex trafficking in their countries before inviting them to join an international organization, a coalition led by Richard Land has told President Bush.

Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and 19 other religious liberty, pro-family and academic leaders expressed their concerns in a letter to Bush about negotiations between the United States and the Eastern European countries regarding membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. They told the president they were resolutely opposed to NATO membership for the countries “in the absence of high-priority, transparent initiatives” by Romania and Bulgaria “against the rampant sex trafficking now taking place within and through their borders.”

The “trafficking into sexual bondage of as many as two million women and children each year is the slavery issue of our time,” the letter said.

The negotiations with Romania and Bulgaria regarding NATO entry offer “a critical test case of the [a]dministration’s commitment to rescue millions of women and children from the abduction, rape, savagery, destruction and death they will otherwise suffer at the hands of the trafficking ‘industry,'” the letter said. “Making entry into NATO conditional on a commitment to end the present reign of sex and slave traffickers will send a clear signal to the world that your [a]dministration is as committed to the rescue from slavery of women and children as prior Americans leaders were to the rescue of Africans from a similar fate.”

Romania and Bulgaria are countries in which sex trafficking either originates or through which victims are transported to other countries. Neither meets the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking in their countries, according to the U.S. State Department.

Romania is rated among the countries with the worst records on combating trafficking. In the State Department’s 2001 report on trafficking, Romania was categorized in tier three, which is for countries that “do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance.”

Bulgaria, meanwhile, was listed in tier two, which includes countries that do not comply with minimum standards “but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards,” according to the 2001 report.

Romania especially recognizes its need to improve its activity regarding trafficking, said a State Department official.

It “knows that a poor record on trafficking will hurt its chances” of joining NATO and the European Union, said Laura Lederer, deputy senior advisor to the secretary of State in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

The Romanian foreign minister recently said the State Department’s 2001 ranking was a “wakeup call” for his country, Lederer said.

“In the last year, the Romanians have begun to take a leadership role in promoting regional cooperation to eradicate trafficking,” she said. They also approved a new anti-trafficking law and, in November, adopted a national action plan against such trade, Lederer said.

Romania faces other difficulties in another year. In 2003, countries in tier three will receive some sanctions from the United States, primarily the end of aid that is not related to trade or humanitarian needs.

According to last year’s State Department report, women in Romania are transported to the Balkans, Greece, Italy and Turkey for sexual exploitation. The same report said women from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Russia and Ukraine are transported through Bulgaria to be sexually exploited in Bosnia, Greece, Italy, Kosovo, Macedonia, Poland, Turkey and Western Europe.

Among those joining Land in the April 1 letter were Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council; Tom Minnery, vice president for Focus on the Family; former U.S. Senator William Armstrong; Princeton University professor Robert George; John Busby, national commander of The Salvation Army; World magazine editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky; Colby May of the American Center for Law and Justice; Joseph Griebowski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy; Michael Horowitz, director of the Hudson Institute’s Project for International Religious Liberty; Marian Bell of Prison Fellowship’s Wilberforce Forum; and Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America.

The annual State Department report is required under the Victims of Trafficking Protection Act that became law in 2000. The anti-trafficking measure was designed to help thwart an international problem that has only recently gained the attention of the American government. In addition to the sex trade in other countries, about 50,000 women and children are brought into this country each year for prostitution purposes, according to experts on the issue.

The law provided new punishment for convicted traffickers in the United States and promoted their prosecution in other countries. It also provided assistance to trafficking victims, including establishment of a new form of visa. The measure created an office in the State Department to monitor and fight trafficking. While it covers all forms of slavery, the law’s prime focus is on the sex trade.

Victims who have survived sexual slavery have described kidnappings, druggings, beatings, sexual assaults and forced abortions as common parts of their experiences.