Worldwide, millions of people are exploited by human trafficking. The Departments of State (State) and Labor (DOL) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) managed 182 international anti-trafficking projects totaling at least $316 million, during fiscal year 2018 and the first half of fiscal year 2019.
Human trafficking takes many forms. For example, Pakistani children as young as 5 years of age are forced to work in brick kilns, some of which are owned by government officials. Other victims are subjected to sexual exploitation. In some cases, women and girls have been bought and sold as sex slaves by members of the Islamic State. In other cases, men, women, and children have been forced to engage in commercial sex. This is assuming the victims reach their destination. Many have and continue to perish en route as they are trafficked in unsafe conditions such as refrigerated trailers or overcrowded boats on rough seas.
The agencies have evaluated the effectiveness of some of their projects and cited improved awareness and collaboration as project successes. Agency officials told the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that they face challenges that make it difficult to evaluate anti-trafficking projects. For example, data is not readily available because of the hidden nature of trafficking.
According to officials, State, USAID, and DOL generally design projects to align with the “3Ps approach”—prosecution, protection, and prevention— and to consider trends and recommendations identified in agency reports on foreign governments’ anti-trafficking efforts. According to State, the 3Ps approach serves as the fundamental framework used around the world to combat human trafficking, and the U.S. government follows this approach to prevent trafficking in persons through public awareness, outreach, education, and advocacy campaigns.
State’s Program to End Modern Slavery represents a large U.S. investment to combat international human trafficking. Under this program, prime award recipients have administered 22 subawards, worth $13.8 million, for international anti-trafficking projects and human trafficking research. For subawards reviewed, GAO found that State, among other things, had reviewed and approved country selection, industry selection, and subaward recipients.
GAO’s study found that agencies are taking steps to address challenges to evaluating international anti-trafficking projects and have completed final evaluations that examine project effectiveness. Despite longstanding challenges to evaluating anti-trafficking projects, given the sensitivities of human trafficking, agencies are taking steps to improve data, resources, and project design. In addition, GAO revealed that State, USAID, and DOL completed a total of eight final evaluations of their anti-trafficking projects that were active from fiscal years 2016 through 2018 and provided information on the extent to which these projects achieved their objectives. For example, the final evaluations identified project achievements related to improved awareness, collaboration, and institutional capacity, among other things. They also identified project challenges, such as limited resources.
State, USAID, and DOL generally followed their policies for using midterm evaluation findings and recommendations to strengthen ongoing projects. Specifically, GAO found that the agencies used midterm evaluations to make course corrections to improve project performance. For example, State provided additional funding and a time extension to an implementing partner, in response to a midterm evaluation recommendation.
During the course of GAO’s review, State also adopted an evaluation recommendation tracker and required it for all evaluations completed since October 2019.