Hillary Clinton signs an autograph for Poonam Khatoon at ICCR on May 6
The 16-year-old girl who demonstrated a mock karate chop in front of Hillary Clinton and dared to look her in the eye is the inspiration behind the US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for this year.
The US secretary of state’s speech at the Benjamin Franklin Room in Washington DC on June 19, where the report was released and 10 TIP heroes were honoured, was peppered with mention of her Calcutta visit two months ago, when she met Poonam Khatoon — “one young girl, full of life”.
“This issue and the progress we’ve made are about much more than statistics on prosecutions and vulnerable populations. It’s about what is happening in the lives of the girls and women I recently met in Calcutta. I visited a few months ago and was able to meet with some extraordinary women and girls who were getting their lives back after suffering unspeakable abuses,” said Hillary, who had an hour-long interaction with NGO leaders at the ICCR on May 6, her first day in the city.
“I’m totally your cheerleader so continue what you’re doing and I’ll stand by you,” Hillary had told the anti-trafficking crusaders before leaving the programme where she came across Poonam.
Remembering Poonam’s story of despair and hope, Hillary said: “This was a child who’d been born in a brothel to a young mother who had been forced and sold into prostitution. But when her mother finally escaped and took her daughter with her, they were out of harm’s way and finally able to make choices for themselves. Now I don’t know what’s going to happen to that young girl, whose image I see in my mind’s eye, in the years and decades ahead. But I do know that with a little help, her life can be so much better than her mother’s. And that’s what we need to be focused on, and it’s what we need to try to do for all victims and survivors. That’s why in this year’s report, we are especially focused on that third P, victim protection.”
The US secretary of state said the report included “proven practices and innovative approaches to protecting victims” with focus on the kind of psychological support a victim might need. “How should immigration laws work to protect migrant victims? How can labour inspectors learn to recognise the warning signs of traffickers? And what can you and all of us do to try to help?” said Hillary, listing the issues dealt with in the report.
Hillary urged the audience, which included leaders and activists of the anti-trafficking movement along with actor Will Smith and his wife Jada, who have taken an interest in the cause, to do their part. She cited examples of “several young women from the United States” she had met in Calcutta who had been “inspired by reading about and watching and going online and learning about what was happening in the efforts to rescue and protect victims”.
“...this is a moment for people to ask themselves not just what the government can do to end modern slavery, but what can I do, what can we do together,” Hillary said.
The TIP report has an introductory letter written and signed by the US secretary of state, who narrates her experience of a visit to a trafficking shelter in Calcutta. The statement ends with a mention of how “…this struggle will not truly be won until all those who toil in modern slavery, like those girls in Calcutta, are free to realise their God-given potential”.
The report puts India in Tier 2, among countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards of the Torture Victims Protection Act but are trying to bring themselves in compliance. India graduated from Tier 2 Watch List in 2011.