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A stop sign for human trafficking

Nigeria shows the political will to investigate, prosecute, and convict.

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It's not every day that the US government gives Nigeria a shout-out for a job well done. After all, the State Department labels this African nation's human rights record "poor" and its 2007 presidential election "seriously flawed."

But this week, the State Department praised Africa's most populous country for its progress in prosecuting human traffickers and helping their victims. "I can't talk about Nigeria enough," said Ambassador Luis Cde-Baca, who leads the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

In only five years, Nigeria has advanced from the State Department's human-trafficking "watch list" to its top tier of countries fully complying with standards to eliminate servitude.

That stands as proof that other countries and the world as a whole can do something about this scourge flourishing in the shadows. An estimated 12 million adults and children have been induced by force, fraud, or coercion to become prostitutes, miners, farmhands, domestics, sweatshop workers – mostly in the developing world.

In its ninth annual report on human trafficking, the State Department said this week that the economic crisis has made people more vulnerable to the false promises and trickery that can lead to enslavement. Of the 175 countries and territories it rated, the 2008 report put 52 of them on its watch list, up from 40 the year before – a 30 percent increase.

And yet, since 2000, more than half of all countries have enacted laws that ban human trafficking. Nongovernmental organizations are working more closely with law enforcement and that's leading to thousands of prosecutions. Last year, nearly 3,000 traffickers were convicted.

It's the law enforcement follow-through that counts most, and that's one reason why Nigeria moved into the top-tier rank. Over the last year, it investigated 209 trafficking cases resulting in 23 convictions – more than double the convictions from the year before.

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