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Sen. Marco Rubio criticized the State Department for treating Cuba, China and Thailand too leniently in its 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, an annual look at forced prostitution, childhood slavery and other abuse around the world.

The State Department places every country in one of three tiers based on its governments efforts to comply with "the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking," as spelled out in the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act.

"When we talk about human trafficking, we're talking about slavery -- modern-day slavery that still today claims more than 20 million victims at any given time," Secretary of State John Kerry told ambassadors, trafficking victims and other guests Thursday during a State Department ceremony marking the release of the new annual report.

In its report last year, the State Department moved Cuba up from Tier 3, the worst level, to Tier 2, and kept Cuba at Tier 2 in the current report.

"(It's) a ranking not justified by the facts on the ground, but rather reflective of the Obama administration's pursuit of normalized relations with the Castro regime at any cost," Rubio said after the report's release.

In its section on Cuba, the new State Department report concludes: "The government of Cuba does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so."

The State Department used similar broad language to justify China's Tier 2 ranking, saying it has significant trafficking problems but is "making significant efforts" to meet minimum standards for its elimination.

Rubio criticized that ranking.

"While the internal State Department deliberations for this year's report are not yet known, there is no indication that China's trafficking track record has improved," the Miami Republican said.

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