Human trafficking is a symptom of distorted and disrupted relationships with us, with the created world and with society. Slavery starts when people do not respect their own humanity, their bodies and their spiritual potential. A reflection on human ecology and the causes of trafficking of human beings by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, Philippines.
Human trafficking, the many forms of which lead to the same exploitation of human beings is a “crime against humanity.” It violates the very essence, nature and dignity of human beings as well as their capacity to build relationships and communities contributing to the common good. We ask, “Do the traffickers see human beings in those they are exploiting?” At the same time we ask, “Where is the humanity of those of exploit other persons?” We need to ask, “What type of relationship leads to commodification of human beings, to their exploitation for profit and to the denial of their innate value as humans?” One path towards an answer is the category of human ecology, a topic dear to Pope Francis and his predecessors St. Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Let us consider three aspects of human ecology.
First, in the social sciences, human ecology “deals with the spatial and temporal interrelationships between humans and their economic, social and political organization” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). While biology studies interrelationships between living organisms, human ecology scrutinizes how our values, lifestyles, use and misuse of resources influence and affect the social, cultural, economic and political environment that we create. In human ecology we do not deal only with biological life systems but primarily with the world as constructed by human beings, by human meaning or meaninglessness.
Secondly, the Church attributes to human ecology another profound reality: “the relationship between human life and the moral law which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment” (Laudato si 155). Human relationships and the structures or systems they generate cannot be divorced from morality. Pope John Paul II already noticed that there was little effort made to “safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology” (Centessimus annus 38).
Finally, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an “ecology of man” based on the fact that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will” (Laudato si 155).
Pope Francis employs this insight in talking about the human body. He says that “our body itself establishes a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings…The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father… whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.” (Laudato si 155). He adds, “Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.”
Respect for the natural ecology of the human body and respect for moral law are indispensable for a healthy human ecology or social environment created by human relations. Human trafficking is a symptom of distorted and disrupted relationships with our selves, with the created world and with society. It is an expression of a culture of pride, self-sufficiency, greed and discarding or throwing away the outcasts.
Distorted Human Ecology and Human Trafficking
The lack of authentic human ecology lies at the root of human trafficking and slavery. The way we see ourselves, our nature, our freedom and relationship with the world determines our behavior and decisions in the social, cultural, political and economic spheres of life.
Slavery starts when people do not respect their own humanity, their bodies and their spiritual potential. They see themselves and consequently other persons as mere instruments or objects to attain some goal, especially money, profit, influence or power.
An example is forced labor. Human labor is supposed to develop the potentials and creativity of a human being. Unfortunately in a failed human ecology, the laborer is seen as an object or an instrument among many other instruments to produce goods. The profit made by selling the goods is more important that the human being that labored.
Another example is the trafficking of human organs. The human body which is a gift of God, an expression of the deepest in the person, becomes a supplier of goods to be harvested or sold for money. We cannot fail to mention the sex tourism or prostitution business, the selling of illegal drugs, the enticement to vices, the trafficking of fishers, the exploitation of the refugee crisis into a big money making business among others. The means of social communications have been used for subtle human trafficking strategies.
So we reiterate that the lack of authentic human ecology that cares for and defends human nature and its real basic needs as well as the social and political environment that must promote the flourishing of human beings creates conditions ripe for trafficking and slavery of vulnerable humans like indigenous people, the poor, migrants, refugees, minorities, women and the girl children. If social, cultural, political and economic systems are not built on moral or ethical foundations, they would not promote the flourishing of human beings and the common good.
What to do
First as a Church and faith-based communities we should have compassion for the victims of human trafficking. Sometimes the issue is approached without much understanding and mercy. How can we condemn a refugee family with no food to feed their children thinking that marrying off their young daughter to a man would be good for her? How could we judge a young person who has little opportunities for advancement in his/her own country from being fooled by unscrupulous recruiters? With compassion and understanding let us help the survivors to regain a healthy sense of life and dignity. It is important to help vulnerable people in detecting signs of betrayal from people who pretend to help them.
Secondly, we need to educate and form consciences about the true value of the human person, of human nature, of the human body and of human work. This educative and awareness-raising activity could be done in schools, parishes and social media. One Voice can reach out to places where this education is much needed – to the peripheries or vulnerable communities. We should not tire of turning minds and hearts to the truth about the human person, the value of the human person and the call to love each human person. Thirdly, we should be the conscience of society. By actively engaging in the transformation of the social, cultural, political and economic structures we could redirect them to the inviolable dignity of the human person and the common good.
Exposing and correcting corruption, eradicating destitution and poverty, providing access to education and social services and building strong social protection systems are some of the actions we can take.
Pope Francis and other faith leaders set the year 2020 as the goal for eradicating slavery. Towards this laudable aim, the Churches and other faith based communities should direct our energies. We should be more efficient in preventing human trafficking through advocacy and in assisting the victims. As a church we have to take the lead and encourage governments to adopt anti-trafficking legislation and structures. Let us act as “one family with one voice – no to human trafficking.”