January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Perspective by: Jill Follows,
LWVFA and UN Observer LWVUS

One year ago, a U.S. Presidential Proclamation declared January to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The Proclamation called on all of us to raise awareness of the need to end all modern forms of slavery. “As a Nation, we cherish and uphold the notion that all people are created with inherent dignity and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Human trafficking and enslavement robs victims of these God-given endowments.” Read the full text here. 

The Presidential Proclamation is a ceremonial announcement of a policy and does not have the force of law. As with many policies, the title of the Proclamation is suitable and the text requires scrutiny, if only to crystallize the facts and appreciate diverse perspectives. The perspectives of the United Nations, LWVUS and the Commonwealth of Virginia vis a vis human trafficking are presented in this article.

The Title of the Presidential Proclamation is Suitable: On the first anniversary of the Proclamation, it is appropriate that the Virginia League of Women Voters recommit itself to raise awareness of and support steps to combat human trafficking within our own state and national borders. Estimates are that human traffickers exploit 77% of victims within the borders of their own country.  People do not have to move across international borders to be exploited by human traffickers. Indeed, the vast majority of trafficked persons do not move across such borders. 

Tackling the scourge of human trafficking in the “hot spot” known as the Metro DC region has been a priority initiative of the Virginia LWV. Previous League reports of studies on human trafficking noted that women and teens are disproportionately affected. 

The Position of the National League on Human Trafficking: “The League of Women Voters opposes all forms of domestic and international human trafficking of adults and children, including sex trafficking and labor trafficking. We consider human trafficking to be a form of modern-day slavery and believe that every measure should be taken and every effort should be made through legislation and changes in public policy to prevent human trafficking. Prosecution and penalization of traffickers and abusers should be established, and existing laws should be strictly enforced. Extensive essential services for victims should be applied where needed. Education and awareness programs on human trafficking should be established in our communities and in our schools.”

Human Trafficking Hotline


The Perspective of the Virginia State Crime Commission and Virginia General Assembly on Combatting Sex Trafficking: The Virginia State Crime Commission (Commission) tackled the plague of human trafficking a year ago. In January 2019 the Commission concluded that Virginia needed to address the root causes of sex trafficking, identify at-risk youth, increase awareness and education and training across relevant professions and reduce the demand for commercial sex trafficking. The Commission endorsed 11 recommendations to combat sex trafficking. The following six recommendations were enacted during the Regular Session of the 2019 General Assembly:

  • allow the Department of Social Services to take emergency custody of children who are victims of sex trafficking; 
  • authorize charging sex traffickers for each individual act of commercial sex trafficking; 
  • increase penalties for aiding in prostitution and using a vehicle to promote prostitution when the victim is a minor;
  • create a statewide Sex Trafficking Response Coordinator position; 
  • create a fund to promote training and education awareness related to sex trafficking; 
  • allow juvenile victims to testify via two-way closed-circuit television

The Perspective of the United Nations on Combatting Human Trafficking- Scrutiny of the Text of the Presidential Proclamation: The UN perspective is premised on two fundamental principles: (1) human rights are at the center of all efforts to combat trafficking AND (2) anti-trafficking measures should not adversely impact the human rights and dignity of the persons trafficked.

In stark contrast to the Presidential Proclamation that persons receive God-given endowments of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the United Nations makes it clear that human rights are inalienable rights. People are not endowed by God with rights or granted rights by anyone or any entity. The UN leaves no space for discriminatory language that restricts human rights protections to trafficked persons based on their personal belief in God, creed, race, age, sex, sexual orientation, citizenship status, nationality, ethnicity or class.

The Proclamation’s claim that the construction of a physical wall at the southern border of the USA will stop human trafficking belies the fact that 77% of human traffickers operate within a country’s borders. The United Nations clearly articulates that basic human rights do not discriminate against persons based on nationality or citizenship status.

The UN also highlights the fact that women and children are disproportionately traumatized by human trafficking. Any failure to acknowledge the disproportionate impact of human trafficking on women and children miscalculates and minimizes the facts and may adversely impact their lives and livelihoods.

In 2004, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (the precursor to today’s Human Rights Council) threw its support behind the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons; in 2017, the mandate was extended three more years. The Special Rapporteur’s primary mandate is to focus on the human rights of the victims of trafficking in persons, especially women and children and “take(s) action on violations committed against trafficked persons and on situations in which there has been a failure to protect their human rights.”  The Special Rapporteur identified the PILLARS of human rights-based response to trafficking with the catchy mnemonic known informally as the “5P’s and 3 R’s: Protection; Prosecution; Punishment; Prevention; Promotion AND Redress; Rehabilitation; Reintegration.

  • Protection-the rapid identification and protection of victims of trafficking;
  • Prosecution-State Parties must investigate and prosecute allegations of trafficking;
  • Punishment-sanctions should subject responsible traffickers to effective and dissuasive punishment;
  • Prevention-recognize the causes of trafficking and implementing positive measures to stop future acts;
  • Promotion of international cooperation-human trafficking does not recognize geographic borders.
  • Redress- State Parties shall compensate the lost income of victims from the proceeds of traffickers;
  • Rehabilitation-restore the victim’s status and position in the eyes of the law and in the community;
  • Reintegration of Victims into Society-show respect for the repatriated individual’s rights, including their right to privacy and right not to be discriminated against.


The United Nations has a History of Advancing Human Rights of Trafficked Persons. Two of the more recent and relevant UN human rights instruments are highlighted.

First, the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (Convention) entered into force in July 1951. It focuses on the punishment and prosecution of traffickers and social measures in aid to the trafficked persons. The Preamble to the Convention lists the already existing instruments, dating back to 1904, targeting the suppression of traffic in women in children. In doing so, the Convention acknowledged the historic and horrific impact of trafficking on women and children. Some Articles in the Convention called on the Parties to the Convention to address specifically the needs of trafficked women and children. For example:

Article 17(1): “To make such regulations as are necessary for the protection of immigrants or emigrants, and in particular, women and children, both at the places of arrival and departure and while en route.”

Article 20: “The Parties to the present Convention shall, if they have not already done so, take the necessary measures for the supervision of employment agencies in order to prevent persons seeking employment, in particular women and children, from being exposed to the danger of prostitution.”


The United States is not a Party to this Convention. https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=VII-11-a&chapter=7&clang=_en

The second recent and relevant UN human rights instrument is the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (Protocol.) (November 2000) The Preamble and General Provisions of this Protocol place the plight of trafficked women and children at the center of its approach and calls on all Parties to protect their internationally recognized human rights.

The second section of the Protocol sets forth the means by which governments shall protect the victims of trafficking, such as protecting the victim’s privacy and physical safety and assisting the victim with court proceedings, housing, counseling, medical and psychological and material assistance, employment, education, and training opportunities. There are also provisions dealing with the repatriation of victims of trafficking. (Articles 6-8)

The third section of the Protocol sets forth the measures by which governments shall prevent trafficking. The Protocol calls on governments to cooperate with non-governmental organizations to strengthen measures that will reduce poverty and increase opportunities for trafficked persons, especially women and children. (Articles 9-13)

The final section of the Protocol addresses the procedural mechanisms for settling disputes between State Parties and the ratification process for the Protocol. Of particular note is the non-discrimination language in the text. Article 14 (2) states: The measures set forth in this Protocol shall be interpreted and applied in a way this is not discriminatory to persons on the ground that they are victims of trafficking in persons. The interpretation and application of those measures shall be consistent with internationally recognized principles on non-discrimination. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/ProtocolTraffickingInPersons.aspx

The United States is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime with respect to the offenses established in the trafficking Protocol. https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XVIII-12-a&chapter=18&clang=_en#EndDec

In Support of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month: It is vital to the health and welfare of victims of human trafficking, especially women and children, that the League continue to raise awareness of human rights and the Commonwealth’s initiatives to combat human trafficking.


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Today’s review of the INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION ON THE ELIMINATION OF ALL FORMS OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION (ICERD) is the next in a series of reviews of United Nations human rights conventions and treaties. The reviews are written by a group of League members from across the country who are inspired by the League’s history of human rights advocacy and motivated to start a fresh dialogue about the impact these historical UN conventions have today on the League’s principle of Empowering Voters-Defending Democracy.  Democratic principles respecting human rights are enshrined in United Nations conventions. Read more

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UN Notes: International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

Summary: The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) affirms that the existence of racial barriers is repugnant to the principles of human dignity and equality. It condemns any doctrine of superiority based on race as scientifically false, morally reprehensible and capable of disturbing peace and security throughout the world. The USA gave a qualified ratification to ICERD. The League’s overarching Social Policy Position is to “Secure equal rights and equal opportunity for all.”  Read more

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UN Notes: International Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICPMW)

Summary: The International Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICPMW) accords basic human rights to all migrants, without distinction of any kind and throughout the entire migration process. The family unit is protected under this law. Although the USA has not ratified this UN Convention, the League has a well-articulated public policy on immigration that addresses the human rights of migrant workers and their families, as well as other non-worker migrants or refugees. Read more

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United Nations Principles for Older Persons

Review by: CSW63 Delegate Kathleen Montgomery, UN Observer Jill Follows, CSW63 Delegates Savanna Mapelli, Susan Sherer, ErinLeigh Darnley, Sheila Denn, Anu Sahai

Today’s review of the United Nations Principles FOR Older Persons is the next in a year-long series of monthly reviews of United Nations human rights conventions. All of the reviews are written by a team of League members from across the country who are inspired by the League’s history of human rights advocacy and motivated to start a fresh dialogue about the impact these historical UN conventions have today on the League’s principle of Empowering Voters – Defending Democracy. Democratic principles respecting human rights are enshrined in United Nations conventions.

Background: Our previous reviews considered formal United Nations treaties and conventions. Although there is no formal treaty or convention explicitly addressing the concerns of older persons, the United Nations has been far from silent on the issue. In 1991, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 46/91, PRINCIPLES FOR OLDER PERSONS. This declaration followed the earlier Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing, an outcome of the First World Assembly on Ageing in 1982. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/OlderPersons.aspx

The UN PRINCIPLES FOR OLDER PERSONS encourage governments “whenever possible” to incorporate into their national programs principles that foster independence, care, self-fulfillment, dignity, and participation. Of particular relevance to League of Women Voters’ priorities and activities are the two Principles pertaining to participation of older persons:

7. Older persons should remain integrated in society, participate actively in the formulation and implementation of policies that directly affect their well-being and share their knowledge and skills with younger generations.

8. Older persons should be able to seek and develop opportunities for service to their community and to serve as volunteers in positions appropriate to their interests and capabilities.

Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWG): Following the adoption of the Principles for Older Persons, the UN convened the Second World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid in 2002, which resulted in the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing. https://www.un.org/development/desa/ageing/madrid-plan-of-action-and-its-implementation.html

Frustrated that the Madrid Plan of Action received little attention, the UN General Assembly established the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWG) in 2010. The OEWG is recognized as the most prominent international forum specifically devoted to the rights of older persons; it meets annually in New York for progress reporting and agenda setting by Member States. In 2012, the UN General Assembly resolved (67/139) that the OEWG shall, as part of its mandate, consider proposals for an international legal instrument to promote and protect the rights and dignity of older persons. https://undocs.org/A/RES/67/139.

Nevertheless, this has remained an elusive goal. At the tenth OEWG meeting in 2019, the UN High Commissioner For Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, addressed the gathering and lamented that, “existing international human rights instruments are silent on older persons.” She again called for a dedicated convention to establish “much needed international standards related to the human rights of older persons” and to “put in place monitoring mechanisms for accountability and redress to ensure the implementation of measures to protect, respect, and fulfill the human rights of older persons.”

Synergy with CEDAW: Commissioner Bachelet’s concern about the persistent lack of explicit UN standards and legal conventions to protect the human rights of older persons has been echoed by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which has been proactive on behalf of older women.1

In 2002, CEDAW reported that age is one of the grounds on which women may suffer multiple forms of discrimination. In 2010, CEDAW adopted General Recommendation No. 27 on Older Women and Protection of Their Human Rights.2 This Recommendation highlighted data demonstrating the demographic trend that the 21st Century is the “Century of Ageing,” with issues that deeply affect countries across the globe and at varying levels of development. https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/CEDAW-C-2010-47-GC1.pdf

CEDAW’s wide-ranging 2010 Recommendation begins by declaring that “States must recognize that older women are an important resource to society” and calling for States to take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to eliminate discrimination against older women to “ensure that older women participate fully and effectively in the political, social, cultural and civil life, and any other field in their societies.” The importance of women’s participation in public and political life is emphasized in Section 39 of the Recommendation:

39. States parties have an obligation to ensure that older women have the opportunity to participate in public and political life, and hold public office at all levels, and that older women have the necessary documentation to register to vote and run as candidates for election.

Synergy with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Older persons’ rights — the focus of the OEWG and CEDAW General Recommendation No. 27 — also are reflected in the United Nations plan of action to achieve sustainable development on our planet by 2030. Although there is not a specific set-aside goal for older persons, ageing implicitly cuts across many of the 17 SDGs, including the goals on poverty eradication, healthy living, decent work, and reduced inequalities. As emphasized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it is important to go beyond recognizing older persons as a vulnerable group and to recognize older persons as active agents of societal development. The full brief may be found at https://www.un.org/development/desa/ageing/news/2017/07/ageing-older-persons-and-the-2030-agenda-for-sustainable-development/.

Conclusion: The League of Women Voters’ Impact on Issues 2018-2020 contains an all-inclusive position for equal rights: “Secure equal rights and equal opportunity for all. Promote social and economic justice and the health and safety of all Americans” (p. 8). As we move further into the 21st “Century of Ageing,” local, state, and national Leagues may determine that a more explicit focus on ageing is warranted. Stay tuned.


i. Although the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was signed by President Carter in 1980, it has never been brought to a vote by the full US Senate. Nonetheless, the League of Women Voters has been vocal in its support of CEDAW, submitting testimony in support of ratification to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2002 and again in 2011 to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Civil and Constitutional Rights. See our Human Rights Team’s review of CEDAW.

ii. CEDAW Recommendations, adopted following its annual meetings, are intended to raise attention and accelerate action toward critical issues.

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United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child


Today’s review of the CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD (CRC) and PROTOCOLS thereto is the sixth in a year-long series of reviews of United Nations human rights conventions and treaties. The reviews are written by a team of League members from across the country who are inspired by the League’s history of human rights advocacy and motivated to start a fresh dialogue about the impact these historical UN conventions have today on the League’s principle of Empowering Voters- Defending Democracy.  Democratic principles respecting human rights are enshrined in United Nations conventions.

Review by: CSW63 Delegate Savanna Mapelli (PA); UN Observer Jill Follows (VA); CSW63 Delegates Susan Sherer (PA); Kathleen Montgomery (CA); Sheila Denn (NC); ErinLeigh Darnley (NY); Anu Sahai (VA)

OVERVIEW: The CRC is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in the world.  In 1976 the General Assembly of the United Nations declared that three years later, 1979, would be the International Year of the Child.  In 1978 Poland submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights a draft convention on the rights of the child.  Over the next ten years, the United States participated actively in contributions to produce a final draft of the CRC.[i]  In November 1989, the General Assembly adopted and opened the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) for signature and ratification.  196 nations have become parties to the CRC after their governments ratified the treaty.  The United States is not one of those parties.

Article 1 of the CRC defines a child as a human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.  The CRC establishes the standard of the best interests of the child as the primary consideration in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by institutions, courts, legislative bodies or administrative authorities.  https://www.unicef.org/child-rights-convention/convention-text

In its fifty-four articles, the CRC promotes four main aspects of children’s rights (known as “the four ‘P’s”):

Participation by children in decisions affecting them;

Protection of children against discrimination and all forms of neglect and exploitation; 

Prevention of harm to them;

Provision of assistance to children for their basic needs.


THE OPTIONAL PROTOCOLS TO THE CRC and THE U.S.A. RESPONSE: Even though President Clinton signed the CRC in 1995, to date it has not reached the floor of the United States Senate for ratification.  However, in 2002 the United States, along with many other member States, adopted and ratified two Optional Protocols to the CRC.   Both of these Optional Protocols expressly permit signatories to the CRC to sign and ratify them independently of ratification of the CRC.   http://legal.un.org/avl/ha/crc/crc.html

The first Optional Protocol (OP1), referred to as the Child Soldiers Protocol, consists of thirteen articles.  The OP1 mandates that member States “take all feasible measures” to ensure that members of their armed forces under the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities. Among many terms of the Protocol, States parties agree to prohibit independent armed groups from recruiting and using children under the age of 18 in conflicts.  For the text of the Child Soldiers Protocol, see https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/OPACCRC.aspx

For the collection of member States’ Declarations, Reservations and Objections made upon ratification, see https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/MTDSG/Volume%20I/Chapter%20IV/IV-11-b.en.pdf

The second Optional Protocol (OP2), referred to as the Sex Trafficking Protocol, consists of seventeen articles.  The OP2 prohibits the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography as violations of children’s rights.  The OP2 also emphasizes the importance of increased public awareness and international cooperation in efforts to combat violations.  The OP2 sets forth detailed requirements to end both the sexual exploitation abuse of children and non-sexual exploitation abuse of children, such as forms of forced labor, illegal adoption and organ donation. It requires punishment not only for those offering or delivering children for the illegal purposes, but also for anyone accepting the child for these activities.  The Protocol protects the rights and interests of child victims by requiring governments to provide legal and other support services to child victims, considering the best interests of the child in any interactions with the criminal justice system. Children must also be supported with necessary medical, psychological, logistical and financial support to aid their rehabilitation and reintegration.[ii]  For the text of the Sex Trafficking Protocol, see https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/crc-sale.pdf  For the collection of member States’ Declarations, Reservations and Objections made upon ratification see https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/MTDSG/Volume%20I/Chapter%20IV/IV-11-c.en.pdf

THE COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD (CRC) is the body of eighteen independent experts elected by States parties that monitors implementation of the CRC and the Optional Protocols.[iii]   A third Optional Protocol, not discussed herein, and not ratified by the U.S.A., gives children standing before the Committee, allowing children to bring complaints under the treaty in their own names, as opposed to only through an organization on their behalf.   https://www.unicef.org/child-rights-convention/strengthening-convention-optional-protocols

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (SDG)   The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is the UN agency established to help governments improve the health and education of mothers and children.  UNICEF publishes Briefing Notes summarizing SDGs and their many subparts, called SDG Global Indicators, as they relate to children at both national and global levels.


The child-related SDGs and their global indicators which UNICEF monitors in this regard include: 

SDG #2 Zero Hunger (2.2.1 stunting, 2.2.2 wasting/overweight), 

SDG #3 Good Health and Well-being (3.1.2 skilled attendant at birth, 3.2.1 under-five mortality, 3.2.2 neonatal mortality, 3.b.1 full vaccination coverage), 

SDG #4 Quality Education (4.2.1 early childhood development),

SDG#5 Gender Equality (5.2.1 sexual violence by intimate partner, 5.2.2 sexual violence by non-intimate partner), 

SDG#6 Clean Water and Sanitation (6.1.1 safely managed drinking water, 6.2.1 safely managed sanitation and hygiene),

SDG #8 Decent Work and Economic Growth (8.7.1 child labor),

SDG #16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (16.2.1 child discipline, 16.2.3 sexual violence against children, 16.9.1 birth registration).

 SYNGERGY WITH IMPACT ON ISSUESMany of the Articles of the CRC complement policies of the LWV, as found in Impact on Issues 2018-2020.  Official positions of the LWV regarding children include, but are not limited to, support for childhood education, support for quality childcare, early intervention for children at risk and opposition to all forms of domestic and international human trafficking.  A few of the corresponding articles of the CRC  include Article 28 (“States Parties recognize the right of the child to education….”), Article 3 (“States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being…”), Article 34 (“States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse,” as well as the Sex Trafficking Optional Protocol.

FOR a LEGAL ANALYSIS and OPINION of the CRC with OP1 and OP2, see generally:

Howard Davidson, Does the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child Make a Difference? 22 Mich. St. Int’l L. Rev. 497 (2013),
Available at: 
https://digitalcommons.law.msu.edu/ilr/vol22/iss2/2    (Michigan State digital law link is no longer available.)

 [i] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25007&LangID=E

[ii] Revaz, Cris R. “The Optional Protocols to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on Sex Trafficking and Child Soldiers.” Human Rights Brief 9, no. 1 (2001): 13-16.  Available at:  https://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/hrbrief/vol9/iss1/4/

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