China is now ranked as one of the worst offenders of human trafficking in the world, according to the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report, which was.
Tillerson called China out for not taking "serious steps to end its own complicity in trafficking."
In past years, China has been labeled with tier-2 status, but now they have the lowest tier-3 rank, alongside countries like Syria, Russia and Iran. This happened partially because of their reluctance to clamp down on North Korea's forced labor enterprises, which feed the regime's illicit funds. Tillerson noted that there are 50,000 to 80,000 North Korean workers worldwide, and many are in China and Russia.
But the State Department also says that "forced labor in China is not one-dimensional," noting that the Chinese government has been complicit human trafficking in cases where drug rehabilitation facilities are detaining people. It also said Chinese men and women have been forced into labor, and that children are working in factories.
The tier system is based on a government's handling of human trafficking, and tier 3 countries can be subject to sanctions, although the White House has not yet made a determination about whether sanctions would be put on China.
Tillerson and Ms. Trump both emphasized the necessity of combatting human trafficking for national security reasons. Tillerson said that when state actors or non-state actors use human trafficking it can "become a threat to our national security," specifically in the case of North Korea being able to collect illicit funds from human trafficking. He also noted that trafficking "breeds corruption, undermines rule of law, erodes the core values that underpin a civil society."
Tillerson and Ms. Trump rolled both emphasized the necessity of combatting human trafficking for America's national security interests. Tillerson said that when state actors or non-state actors use human trafficking it can "become a threat to our national security" because it "breeds corruption, undermines rule of law, erodes the core values that underpin a civil society."
Ms. Trump echoed that sentiment in saying that taking on human trafficking is in America's moral and strategic interest.
"Ending human trafficking is among the top priorities of the Trump administration," Ms. Trump said. She also commended activists who have worked to combat the issue worldwide.
Ms. Trump called human trafficking a "profoundly secret crime," and noted a personal connection to the cause because she is a mother. She referenced meeting with victims in Rome earlier this year and the need to keep the victims at the table.
Ms. Trump spoke about eight individuals that State who honored Tuesday as part of the unveiling, calling them heroes and sources of inspiration.
Boom Mosby, an advocate for child victims of sexual abuse in Thailand who founded Hope Understanding and Grace (HUG) Project, was one of the individuals recognized for their work by the State Department. In an interview with CBS news she explained that her organization has done significant work with the FBI and US Department of Homeland Security to drive down child sex tourism.
Being honored by the State Department gave her even more credibility in being the "light and the voice for victims," Mosby said.
On the job for less than six months, Tillerson started off the event in showing that he has done his due diligence on this issue. This is now the 17th annual State Depatment report on human trafficking, and he held up the first report from 2000. He read a portion from its preamble and noted that with these reports the hope to serve as a tool with the ultimate goal of preventing individual victimization.
"It is our hope that the 21st century will be the last century of human trafficking," Mr. Tillerson said.
Tillerson also noted a few success stories, such as a Philippines' investigation into 500 trafficking cases that led to 272 arrests.
The theme of the report this year is increasing criminal accountability of human traffickers. In a letter at the top of the report,, writes of the importance of protecting victims that are forced to take criminal acts as a result of being trafficked.
"Victims should not be further punished by the very system meant to protect them; and when they are, their convictions should be expunged and they should receive support and the comprehensive services to which they are entitled," she writes.
The report also looks at countries that recruit children soldiers. This year's report adds Mali to the list of and takes off Iraq, Burma and Rwanda. It says that the Malian government provided "some in-kind support" and in some cases collaborated with a militia that uses child soldiers.
The advocacy group Human Rights Watch pushed back on the removal of Iraq and Burma.
"Tillerson reportedly overruled his own staff and US diplomats to take Burma and Iraq off the list this year. His decision flies in the face of evidence that both governments are still complicit in child soldier use, and undermines US leverage to influence change.
The US provides Iraq with billions of dollars of military assistance each year; in exchange, it should insist the government put an end to child recruitment by its units. Instead, the State Department isn't even acknowledging Iraq has a child soldier problem," wrote Joe Becker, the advocacy director of the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch.
The State Department stood by their decision in noting that the countries have made strides towards removing children from service.
The countries that remain on the list of child soldier enablers are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Everyone who spoke at the event encouraged continued work.
"Everyone has a role to play and an obligation to act. We must choose to do something to end modern slavery," said Ambassador Coppedge.
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