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HONESTY ABOUT SEX SLAVES



Published: Fri, May 31, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Washington Post: The world is scarred by unspeakable abuses, but the sexual enslavement of children stands out in one way. Curbing this appalling practice could be relatively easy. Those who abduct children, hold them in brothels and hire them out for rape by strangers are breaking the law, openly and continuously; if they operated in secret, they wouldn't get business. It isn't hard to find such self-advertising felons, nor to build criminal cases against them, nor to fire police officers who collude in human trafficking; human-rights workers, posing as brothel clients and using hidden cameras, have demonstrated that it's easy to tape pimps and police commanders trading children's bodies. If this evidence were used to carry out even a few prosecutions of brothel managers, the incentives that drive child prostitution would be altered. Rather than reckoning that enslaved children are cheaper than wage-earning adults, brothel managers would think again.

Forced prostitution

This logic underpins a law that Congress passed two years ago, directing the State Department to put pressure on governments that are especially complacent about the forced prostitution of children. One large-scale offender is India; the State Department itself has stated that more than 2.3 million women and girls work against their will as prostitutes, and the United Nations estimates that two-fifths are under 18. Yet India is unable to tell the State Department of any convictions for sex trafficking, even though the practice is widespread and illegal. Similarly, Thailand has a huge number of child sex slaves, possibly as many as 1 million, but convictions are unheard of.

The law that Congress passed requires the State Department to draw up a list of flagrant offenders, which then stand to lose a portion of their aid unless the president grants them a waiver. In 2001 the list ran to 23 countries, many of which were either too rich to get aid (South Korea, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates) or were already barred for other reasons (Sudan, Burma, Pakistan). But the list excluded India, Thailand and Cambodia, even though they rank among the worst cases.

The State Department is now getting ready to issue this year's list. Country specialists within the department, concerned about causing offense that might damage other U.S. interests, tend to want leniency. India, Thailand and Cambodia can argue that they are conducting education campaigns against child prostitution and trying to look after girls who escape from it. But naming and shaming offending countries is a good way to stimulate the prosecutorial crack-downs that could actually curb sex slavery. The State Department should not pull its punches.

TOUT AND DOUBT

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The collapse of Enron Corp. last fall started a chain reaction. First came the stunning deconstruction of Arthur Andersen LLP and a crisis of confidence in public accounting. Then came an inquiry into Enron's role in formulating U.S. energy policy and allegations that Enron helped create California's energy crisis.

Now it has been revealed that some of Wall Street's biggest brokerage houses are up to their starched white collars in conflicts of interest. Merrill Lynch & amp; Co. agreed last week to pay a $100 million fine to settle a dispute with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Mr. Spitzer's investigators found evidence that Merrill Lynch analysts were promoting stocks that they privately thought were dogs.

Singly, any one of these events would be serious. Jointly, they add up to a pattern of deception, manipulation and fraud that threatens the integrity of the American market system. Regulators should be up-in-arms. The Department of Justice should be sending people to jail. Instead, regulators are part of the problem, federal prosecutors are cutting deals and an ambitious state politician has become a hero.

Smoking e-mails

It was Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat with ambitions for higher office, whose investigators found the smoking e-mails that showed Merrill Lynch analysts hyping stocks they privately derided as "junk" and "crap." The investigation took on new urgency after Enron's collapse, which took place even as most analysts rated it a strong buy. "Tout and doubt" has long been winked at; brokerage houses got lucrative underwriting contracts; in return, their star analysts would pump the stock.

In settling with Mr. Spitzer, Merrill Lynch promised to clean up its act. Other nervous brokerage firms quickly followed suit. That won't let them off the hook for civil penalties from what are expected to be hundreds of lawsuits. Nor will it ensure that once the furor dies down, brokers and bankers still won't find a way to collude.

The only way for that not to happen would be criminal prosecutions that end with top executives going to jail. But the Securities and Exchange Commission has shown no stomach for that. Harvey Pitt, appointed by President George W. Bush to head the SEC, has been meeting privately with executives of firms under investigation. How Mr. Pitt expects to end conflicts of interest by engaging in them himself is a question Mr. Bush should ask.




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