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Actress Jada Pinkett Smith waves as she takes her seat at the State Department ceremony releasing the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report in Washington, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.