Bill would cut aid to
countries trafficking in sex
___By Ira Rifkin
___Religion News Service
___WASHINGTON (RNS)--In what could be a replay of last year's fight over protecting religious freedom abroad, a split has developed within religious ranks over the inclusion of sanctions in a House bill aimed at curbing the international trafficking of women and children for sex.
___The Freedom from Sexual Trafficking Act of 1999-- whose principal sponsors are Reps. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., and Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio--includes a call for cutting off all "non-humanitarian" U.S. aid for nations that "do not meet minimum standards for the elimination of sexual trafficking."
___Unlike early versions of what became the International Religious Freedom Act, the sexual trafficking legislation provides for a presidential waiver of sanctions should the White House determine that invoking it is in the "national interest."
___The last-minute inclusion of a similar waiver broke last year's political logjam that allowed a broad spectrum of religious leaders, Congress and the Clinton administration to unite behind the religious freedom act, which made the treatment of religious believers an official U.S. foreign policy concern.
___Nearly 140 mostly conservative religious leaders and social policy activists signed a letter supporting the Smith-Kaptur bill that was sent to President Clinton and House and Senate leaders. In addition to the sanctions threat, the bill would seek to help nations prosecute sexual traffickers, assist victims in the United States and create a State Department office to oversee U.S. efforts.
___"As the millennium closes, it is hard to fathom that up to 2 million women and children-- as documented by the State Department, United Nations and others--are led each year into tragic lives of sexual slavery," the letter began.
___Some 200,000 girls from Nepal and "hundreds of thousands of women from the former Soviet Union" are among those forcibly taken across international borders.
___ for sexual purposes, it continued.
___The letter also said that "our own government estimates that 50,000 to 100,000 women and girls are trafficked into the United States each year" and that "the God-given dignity and integrity of each individual compels us to take action to combat this evil."
___Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson was among the signers of the letter, as were Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ International; Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship Ministries; James Dobson of Focus on the Family; Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action; Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine; and author/speaker Tony Campolo.
___The measure is opposed by the National Council of Churches, however.
___"Economic sanctions are a form of warfare," said Jay Lintner, a Washington public policy official for the NCC. Lintner said Third World poverty often fuels sexual trafficking and "we think threatening to cut off aid or actually cutting off aid to countries and forcing them into greater poverty is mean-spirited, wrong-headed and counter-productive."
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