Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam all regressed last year in their efforts to battle trafficking of men, women and children for labor or commercial sex, according to the U.S. State Department.
The three Southeast Asian countries were placed on a watch list of middle-tier countries, placing them one level above the worst offenders such as North Korea, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia, the report said. Malaysia was upgraded from the worst ranking, while Cambodia and Pakistan were removed from the watch list.
The department’s 10th annual report grades 175 nations on their efforts to fight this modern form of slavery. The U.S. is listed for the first time, placed among those countries that are doing their best to comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the American law against human trade.
Singapore’s government showed an “inadequate response” to sex trafficking in the city-state with only two convictions last year, the report said. Thailand and Vietnam similarly made little progress in prosecuting trafficking offenders, it said.
Malaysia moved out of the worst tier with increased criminal charges against offenders, the report said. Cambodian authorities made a “significant increase” in convictions over the past year, including a public official, and Pakistan boosted efforts to combat bonded labor, the U.S. said.
The U.S. is a source as well as a transit and destination country for people forced into labor, debt bondage and prostitution, the report said. The work is predominantly in manufacturing, janitorial services, agriculture, hotel services, construction, nail salons, elder care, strip-club dancing and domestic servitude, the U.S. said.
“Behind these statistics on the pages are the struggles of real human beings, the tears of families who may never see their children, the despair and indignity of those suffering under the worst forms of exploitation,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a State Department event to mark the release of the report yesterday in Washington.
The International Labor Organization estimated there were 12.3 million victims of forced labor, sex trafficking, debt bondage and recruitment of child soldiers worldwide in 2009. In the same year, there were 4,166 successful prosecutions for trafficking, the State Department report said.
The U.S. report lists three tiers of nations. Among those in the bottom section — nations that don’t comply with the law and make no effort to do so — are Zimbabwe, Cuba, Mauritania and Sudan.
Japan, Israel and Oman are listed in the middle tier — nations that don’t fully meet the law’s minimum standards yet are making “significant” efforts to do so. Oil-rich Qatar is listed in between the middle and lowest tier on a watch list of countries that don’t meet minimum standards and whose progress is less certain.
The trafficking report calls for better law enforcement, improved laws and more prosecutions for trafficking. The report changes each year, and countries can move from tier one, where the U.S. and others are, to the bottom tier.
This year, 22 countries were upgraded, including Djibouti, which moved from the second tier to the first, while 19 lost ground, such as the Dominican Republic, which slipped from tier two to tier three.
Sixty-two countries on the list have never prosecuted trafficking, according to the report.
“Most countries that deny the existence of victims of modern slavery within their borders are not looking, trying or living up to the mandates” of a United Nations protocol mandate against trafficking, the report said.