WASHINGTON -- Actress and activist Jada Pinkett Smith urged Congress on Tuesday to step up the fight against human trafficking in the U.S. and abroad.
The actress testified during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that she plans to launch a campaign to raise awareness and spur action against human trafficking and slavery. She said the "old monster" of slavery "is still with us," almost 150 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves in the U.S.
"Fighting slavery doesn't cost a lot of money. The costs of allowing it to exist in our nation and abroad are much higher," the actress said. "It robs us of the thing we value most, our freedom."
She said the issue was brought to her attention by her daughter Willow, 11, who sat nearby with actor Will Smith, Pinkett Smith's husband and Willow's father. The Smiths all wore blazers over T-shirts that read, "Free Slaves." The hearing room was filled mostly with young people, some trying to take photos of the famous family.
With her father's arm around her, Willow remained attentive to her mother's testimony and often whispered to her father. At least 30 minutes into the hearing, Will wrapped his gray blazer around Willow.
The actress called for an extension of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which provides funding to combat trafficking and help trafficking victims. The act also created a task force, chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, which coordinates among federal agencies to implement policies against human trafficking.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., pledged to try to gather bipartisan congressional support to further fund the act.
The State Department estimates that at least 14,500 people are trafficked to the U.S. annually.
In this picture taken on August 18, 2009, a Thai bar girl waits for customers outside a bar in Sungai Kolok, in Thailand's southern province of Narathiwat. The sun hasn't set, but already the music is pumping and the disco ball is rolling in the Sumtime Bar, where Malaysian men are enjoying the drinks and women available on this side of the Thai border.
A 12 year-old prostitute cries in a medical center in Kinshasa on November 7, 2010 after she was stoned by an other child prostitute. Child prostitutes earn about 2000 Congolese Francs (2,2 USD) for a sexual intercourse. More than 20,000 children live in the street of Kinshasa, a city of about 10 million. About a third have been accused of witchcraft and rejected by their families; a recent development in a disintegrated Congolese society undermined by poverty.
A Bangladeshi sex worker takes an Oradexon tablet in a government-registered brothel in Faridpur, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) outside Dhaka on June 20, 2010. Whenever Bangladeshi brothel owner Rokeya, 50, signs up a new sex worker she gives them a course of steroid drugs often used to fatten cattle. For older sex workers, tablets work well, said Rokeya, but for younger girls of 12 to 14 -- who are normally sold to the brothel by their families -- injections are more effective.
A newspaper advertising board outside a corner shop in the Lancashire town of Rochdale after nine men were arrested for child sexual exploitation on January 11, 2011 in Rochdale, England. Greater Manchester Police have arrested nine men as part of an investigation into sexual exploitation and questioned on suspicion of rape, inciting child prostitution, allowing a premises to be used for prostitution and sexual activity with a child.
This photo taken on June 21, 2011 shows Chinese police (L) watching over a group of massage girls suspected of prostitution during a raid on a parlour in Beijing in a vice crackdown ahead of the celebrations for the founding of the Chinese Communist Party 90 years ago. Rapid social and economic changes have made China 'prone to corruption' and the ruling Communist Party faces a major challenge stamping out deep-rooted official graft, an official said on June 22.
A man wears a board with a slogan as he demonstrates with prostitutes and members of the Union of Sex Workers (Strass) on June 2, 2012 at the Pigalle square in Paris, to claim their rights to work in dignity and respect.
Firefighters help a prostitute get out after she got trapped in a tunnel where she remained hidden during an operation against human trafficking at the 'Super Frontera' bar, late on April 21, 2012 in Guatemala City.
Nicaraguan sex worker and member of NGO Girasoles Nicaragua (Nicaragua Sunflowers), Wendy, waits for clients on a street in Managua on April 18, 2012.