By Jason Fields
WASHINGTON, Jan 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nations around the world face increased scrutiny from the United States over their attempts to fight human trafficking at home - and the price of failure could be steep, under a law signed by President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
The bedrock law behind U.S. efforts to fight human trafficking around the world was finally reauthorized, more than a year after lapsing, with a number of significant changes.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was first passed in 2000, establishing human trafficking as a federal crime.
The latest version of the act changes the way the highly influential Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, written annually by the U.S. State Department, is put together.
The report sorts every nation in the world into one of three tiers based on how well it is fighting human trafficking.
Countries in the bottom tier - Tier 3 - face potential cuts in U.S. aid and other penalties.
Countries including Malaysia, Cuba and China have had their status upgraded for political reasons in the past.
The current version aims to end that practice by forcing the State Department to take into account the effectiveness of measures taken to reduce trafficking, according to a statement from U.S. Senator Robert Menendez's office.
Menendez, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was a coauthor of the legislation.
"After years of political manipulation of the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report, the TVPRA makes clear that Congress, on a unanimous, bipartisan basis, will not allow the report to be politically manipulated ever again," Menendez said in a statement.
Since September 2017, funding for various provisions of the act was done on a piecemeal basis. In the United States many laws contain "sunset clauses" that require them to be voted on again every few years.
Future TIP reports will have to justify moving nations up or down in the rankings.
"After strong advocacy from civil society, the reauthorization of the TVPRA includes important provisions related to ensuring that countries are rated on the impact of their anti-trafficking efforts in the annual TIP report Tier Rankings, and not just passing laws or policies," Neha Misra of the Solidarity Center, an advocacy group, said.
The new version of the act, which was originally passed in 2000, also discourages law enforcement from arresting victims of sex trafficking who have been forced into prostitution.
"Trafficking victims continue to be treated as criminals, leading to lifelong challenges," Jean Bruggeman, executive director of Freedom Network USA, said in an email to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"This legislation encourages law enforcement to reverse this trend. Now the Department of Justice needs to restore funding to help survivors vacate criminal records that remain."
Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice changed a policy that had provided funding for trafficking victims to have their records expunged.
Other changes to the act include a prohibition against U.S. government contractors overseas charging laborers recruitment fees, an increase to maximum prison terms for convicted traffickers, and restitution to survivors.
It also establishes human trafficking coordinators inside federal attorneys' offices.
(Reporting By Jason Fields, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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