NASHVILLE (BP) -- The U.S. State Department downgraded Russia and China Wednesday (June 19) in its annual trafficking report due to the two countries' lack of efforts in combating human trafficking.

Russia and China shifted into Tier 3, a category shared by countries such as Syria, Cuba and North Korea. The downgrade occurred after the State Department received criticism for delaying this transition. According to the State Department's website, Tier 3 includes "countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so."

Last year, Russia and China were in Tier 2 but should have been downgraded, said Holly Burkhalter of the International Justice Mission in a written testimony for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Countries in Tier 2 are not in full compliance with the Trafficking Victim's Protection Act's minimum standards "but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards," according to the State Department's website.

An estimated 27 million people worldwide currently are enslaved and held against their will in brothels, factories and fields, according to the United Nations.

"Human trafficking is an assault on our most dearly held values of freedom and basic human dignity," said John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State. "American leadership means protecting those values at home and working to advance them around the world."

The 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report stated that "China is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking," a problem significantly impacting the country's migrants.

Although Chinese government officials made efforts to improve the conditions, the report stated that the government:

-- perpetuated the human slave trade in at least 320 state-run institution.

-- failed to provide all-inclusive victim protection services.

-- offers little insight into the punishment of those guilty of trafficking.

"China has become the sex and labor trafficking capital of the world," said Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J. "As a direct consequence of the barbaric one child per couple policy in effect in 1979, China has become the global magnate for sex traffickers."

Surveying governmental responses to human trafficking in 188 countries, the report also defined the Russian government's response to human trafficking similar to China's, as "rosecutions in Russia during the reporting period remained low compared to estimates of Russia's trafficking problem."

"This report is not about pointing fingers," Kerry said, as the U.S. itself ranked in Tier 1 for meeting only minimal TVPA standards. "Rather, it provides a thorough account of a problem that affects all countries. It also lays out ways that every government can do better."

Under U.S. law, Tier 3 countries could be sanctioned for not taking proper measures to curb human trafficking. Sanctions could include denying these countries loans from the International Monetary Fund and desisting with certain types of foreign aid and cultural and educational programs.

President Obama must decide by September if the U.S. will carry out potential sanctions, according to a New York Times online article posted June 19.

"We are going to keep working with our partners across government and across the world in order to improve our response at home, and we're doing this not just to pass judgment on other people but because we know that we can advance this cause," Kerry noted. "We can make a difference. We're going to keep working with those partners around the world in order to develop new approaches and new practices. And we're going to keep engaging with governments on this issue because modern-day slavery affects every country in the world, including the United States."

The trafficking report is available at http://www.state.gov/g/tip.

Beth Byrd is a staff writer at Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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