Washington: The United States has put allies Singapore and Thailand as well as Vietnam on a human trafficking watch list, accusing them of failing to prevent women from being forced into prostitution.
The move yesterday opens the way for the US to cut off some civilian assistance, although it usually functions as a way to pressure countries to take action.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has made women`s and children`s rights a signature issue, called human trafficking a "terrible crime" as she presented the State Department`s annual report.
"All of us have a responsibility to bring this practice to an end," she said.
The report estimated that 12.3 million people were the victims of trafficking in 2009-2010, although it said there has been progress over the past decade.
The State Department added a number of Asian nations to its watch list: Afghanistan, Brunei, Laos, Maldives, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Bangladesh, China, India, Micronesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka stayed on the list, unchanged from a year earlier.
North Korea, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea remained at the bottom level of countries that do not even meet the minimum standards on human trafficking.
Explaining the downgrade for Singapore, the report said that some women from China, the Philippines and Thailand are tricked into coming to the city-state with promises of legitimate employment and coerced into the sex trade.