Each year, thousands of people are deceived and sold into slavery as forced laborers, prostitutes or beggars, in other words become victims of human trafficking. What the Church can do.
Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery. It involves controlling a person through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to forced labour and sexual exploitation, debt bondage or other forms of servitude. Human trafficking strips victims of their freedom and violates the dignity as the human person created in the image of God. It is also first and foremost a crime.
Once a person is trafficked, escaping from that situation is always very difficult and often dangerous. Survivors of trafficking if they manage to flee almost invariably face a multitude of challenges. They are denied of access to legal rights, medical protection and counseling services. They may face criminalization and persecution, as well as stigmatization and discrimination and this regards not only of the trafficked person but also his or her family and environment. Moreover, any assistance for them is often conditional upon cooperation with authorities, regardless of the danger that this may expose the trafficked person to.
According to ILO estimates, there are at least 2.4 million trafficked persons at any given point in time. Yet there are only a few thousand convictions of traffickers every year. Most of the victims are not identified and consequently never receive justice for the damage inflicted upon them. Despite growing awareness and more effective law enforcement responses, trafficking remains a low-risk criminal enterprise with high returns. The ILO estimates that annual profits generated from trafficking in human beings are as high as US$32 billion.
‘Root causes’ of trafficking in human beings in countries of origin include deprival of basic human rights and access to basic needs, thus extreme poverty, especially affecting women, lack of political, social and economical stability, situations of armed conflict and oppression, low status of women in some cultures and domestic violence.
In countries of destination, trafficking occurs due to increasing demand for cheap and exploitable laborers, amongst others on farms, in factories, in fisheries, in construction zones, and in domestic work. A lack of respect for human dignity results in trafficking for forced marriage and removal of organs. The “culture of indifference” as Pope Francis calls it, leads to violence and abuse. It is not sufficiently challenged by authorities, public opinion, educators and the Church.
Other ‘drivers’ may include: a lack of public awareness of trafficking among the public at large and among the vulnerable target groups in particular; the high profit potential for those engaged in the criminal activity of human trafficking; a lack of effective anti-trafficking legislation, and even if such legislation exists, a lack of proper and effective enforcement of such legislation by the responsible authorities. This is often a result of corruption, obstacles to legal migration channels to countries with stronger economies and/or regions with better prospects.
The efforts to combat trafficking in human beings should aim to encompass and address all or most of the above causes. A particular challenge is posed by the complexity of effectively addressing the ‘demand’ side of the phenomenon. In many cases “demand” may even be unaware that the person is a victim of the crime of trafficking. This challenge therefore requires a broad scope of efforts in public awareness raising, through the media, through education programs, through public debate and through the Churches.
Human trafficking is a rapidly growing and highly lucrative “international business” which inevitably leads to the destruction of the lives of hundreds of thousands of persons. The phenomenon is of international dimension and can only be adequately addressed by combined efforts.
The Church, including religious congregations, Catholic organizations and the faithful have a unique potential and – by default – the obligation to engage in a coordinated global effort to combat trafficking in human beings.
What the Church can do
Prevention and awareness raising: supporting and undertaking prevention activities, predominantly through awareness raising. The raising awareness activities can be targeted at risk groups, (e.g. to people who actively intend to migrate in search of a job away from home, within or outside one’s own country, to migrants in an irregular situation, or to groups who due to their circumstances are more at risk of falling victim to the crime of trafficking), educators and professionals (such as doctors, priests, nurses, non specialised social workers and government officials), or to the general public.
Assistance to trafficked persons: providing secure shelter for trafficked persons in the countries of destination, transit and origin (for repatriated trafficked persons); providing individual social, medical, psychological and legal assistance, as well as vocational training to empower trafficked persons professionally. Effective assistance requires trans-national cooperation and networking; in this respect networking and cooperation with religious orders of sisters will be particularly valuable and effective. Fully respecting the religious plurality of trafficked persons and if it is possible, effective assistance should also pay particular attention to the spiritual healing of the trafficked persons and to their full spiritual and mental rehabilitation, in order to enable them to deal with the lifelong suffering that invariably is caused by trafficking.
Advocacy: Political advocacy work is as important as the assistance for trafficked persons, and should particularly address the root causes of trafficking, with a focus on advocating for alternatives for vulnerable groups. Advocacy in countries of destination and towards international institutions should specifically aim at ensuring that appropriate legislation is in place and is being properly enforced at national and international level to protect trafficked persons, to punish traffickers and to guarantee the rights of trafficked persons but also towards migration policies and economic policies that reduce vulnerability of people to trafficking. Finally, advocacy should highlight the need for eradication of forced labour and promotion of decent working conditions.
Networking: It is very important to work, both nationally and internationally, in interdisciplinary networks, where the cooperation between authorities, NGOs and international organizations improves. At the same time there is a need to network within the Church and Church-related organizations, in order to strengthen collaboration and coordination of different efforts, as well as with ecumenical partners in other churches. Networking should aim at improving the trans-national assistance and protection to trafficked persons. Networking is also a tool for joint advocacy work in seeking the improvement of legislation at international and national levels and their enforcement.
Caritas Internationalis – Pontifical Council of Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.