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Commentary & Opinion
Fight Against AIDS in India Must Involve Action Against Human Trafficking, Prostitution, Opinion Piece Says

May 21, 2004

Although "well-intentioned people see[k] to limit the spread of AIDS in at-risk populations, especially in the commercial sex industry," they "often ignore a larger challenge -- helping to free the slaves of that industry," John Miller, director of the U.S. State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, writes in a Seattle Times opinion piece. According to Miller, children under age 18 who are engaged in sex work are "by definition slave victims since they are not capable of consent." Miller cites a recent Times opinion piece by Melinda French Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in which she discussed "empowering and helping women" to obtain condoms through a sex workers' union in India (Miller, Seattle Times, 5/20). French Gates in the piece said that she learned during a recent trip to Kolkata, India, that the "three urgent priorities" for preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in India are empowering women, reaching mobile populations with prevention education and fighting stigma surrounding the disease. Women can be empowered to fight HIV/AIDS by being given opportunities to help plan and participate in prevention programs, French Gates said (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/13). However, Miller says that "[w]hat we have is a 'devil's bargain' -- to distribute condoms, the union agrees to resist efforts to break up the brothels and free the prisoners." He adds that the "challenges facing the Gates Foundation and other foundations are how to fight both AIDS and slavery without ignoring the plight of captives." People "trying to improve the health of Indians must consider and act on ... the link between prostitution, AIDS and sex slavery in India," Miller concludes (Seattle Times, 5/20).

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