By Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
In 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, urging Governments worldwide to take coordinated and consistent measures to defeat this scourge. The Plan calls for integrating the fight against human trafficking into the UN’s broader programs in order to boost development and strengthen security worldwide.
Three years later in 2013, the General Assembly held a high-level meeting to appraise the Global Plan of Action and through a resolution designated July 30 as the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. The resolution declared that such a day was necessary to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights.”
The world body is categorical in stating that “human trafficking is a crime that exploits women, children and men for numerous purposes including forced labour and sex. The International Labor Organization estimates that 21 million people are victims of forced labor globally. This estimate also includes victims of human trafficking for labor and sexual exploitation.
While it is not known how many of these victims were trafficked, the estimate implies that currently, there are millions of trafficking in persons victims in the world. Every country in the world is affected by human trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims.”
The fact is that human trafficking has reached alarming levels all over the world. Whilst there is certainly a heightened awareness of this painful reality and that much more is being to combat this scourge, the bitter truth is that nothing seems to be enough.
In March 2017 India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development told Parliament that there almost 20,000 women and children who were victims of human trafficking in the country in 2016.This number is a 25 percent rise from the previous year. This rise the officials claim is perhaps due to the fact that there are more people who are not only aware of this crime but are also reporting it.
However, there are many who are convinced that the actual victims of human trafficking in India could reach mind-boggling numbers. Many do not report the crime either because they are unaware of the law, are afraid of the human traffickers or of the law enforcement officials or are just too poor to have any other option in life.
India is today regarded as the South Asian hub for human trafficking. Thousands from rural India are lured daily by human traffickers to the big towns and cities with the promise of good jobs and more money. Most of the victims are women and children who are hopelessly trapped in bonded labor, prostitution rings and other nefarious activities. Some of them end up as domestic workers or have to sweat it out for long hours in small industrial units without the necessary safeguards and with unjust wages.
Hundreds of children are brought from neighboring Rajasthan to work in the cotton fields of North Gujarat. In 2016 Rajasthan recorded the second highest number of trafficked children in the country. Mumbai, India’s commercial capital has brothels teeming with trafficked women. West Bengal also has a very high percentage of human trafficking mainly because of the poorer bordering countries of Bangladesh and Nepal.
The National Crime Records Bureau reveals that in 2016 an almost equal number of children and women were trafficked in India. Grim facts and statistical data of this terrible reality from every part of the country are easily available; however, what is in the public and official domain is only the tip of the iceberg.
Human trafficking is a highly complex problem. One is confronted with myriad problems when one attempts to deal with the issue; the main one being taking on the big-time players: the trafficking syndicates and gangs and other vested interests. Many of them are politicians and if not, they have powerful political connections and patronage.
A few years a BJP MP of Gujarat was arrested for human trafficking. In March, a BJP woman from West Bengal was charged with running a flourishing child trafficking racket and she has also named some other political bosses who support her. Recently in May 2017 a BJP leader of Madhya Pradesh was arrested for running an online sex racket. In this terrible game there are few who get caught. Most get away!
A recent Report of the US State Department on ‘Human Trafficking’ bluntly says “India is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Forced labor constitutes India’s largest trafficking problem; men, women, and children in debt bondage—sometimes inherited from previous generations—are forced to work in brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and embroidery factories.
“The majority of India’s trafficking problem is internal, and those from the most disadvantaged social strata—lowest caste Dalits, members of tribal communities, religious minorities, and women and girls from excluded groups—are most vulnerable. Within India, some are subjected to forced labor in sectors such as construction, steel, and textile industries; wire manufacturing for underground cables; biscuit factories; pickling; floriculture; fish farms; and ship breaking. Thousands of unregulated work placement agencies reportedly lure adults and children under false promises of employment for sex trafficking or forced labor, including domestic servitude.”
This problem however, is not confined to India alone. War and conflict in several parts of the world has resulted that many people (particularly children and women) who flee war and persecution, often fall prey to unscrupulous human traffickers and/or smugglers. From Syria to Myanmar; from Congo to Colombia; from Afghanistan to Sudan ,the plight of migrant children laboring long hours in sweatshops; toiling in fields and other hazardous industries; begging on streets (supervised by syndicates) either in their own countries or in the ‘host’ countries is just despicable.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) states that, “Over half of the world’s refugees are children. Many will spend their entire childhoods away from home, sometimes separated from their families. They may have witnessed or experienced violent acts and, in exile, are at risk of abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or military recruitment” The ISIS has captured an estimated 3.000 Yazidi women and use them as sex slaves. Several other refugee and migrant women virtually have no choice but to allow themselves to be sexually exploited since they are in the clutches of powerful traffickers.
The Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons has certainly been making efforts to address the endemic issues of this problem. Real change can come about only if world leaders and Governments have a committed political will to stop human trafficking.
Pope Francis is one leader who has shown undeniable courage to keep the issue on the radar and emphasizing the importance of it being dealt with at different levels. He has been very vocal in his stand against human trafficking referring to it as “a crime against humanity” “a form of slavery”, “a grave violation of human rights” and “an atrocious scourge.” He has also said that there is also “evidence which brings one to doubt the real commitment of some important players.” This is plain- speak from the Pontiff who is certainly vexed about the problem and wants an immediate and urgent halt to it!
February 8 is designated as the ‘International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking’ in the Catholic Church. It falls on the feast day of Saint Josephine Bakita. Last February Pope Francis said, “This enslaved, exploited and humiliated girl in Africa never lost hope” but persevered in her faith and ended up as a migrant in Europe where she heard the call of the Lord and became a nun. Let’s pray to Saint Josephine Bakita for all migrants and refugees who are exploited and suffer so much.”
The focus this year was ‘on the trafficking of children and adolescents.’ Pope Francis had words of encouragement for all those who in different ways, help minors who have been enslaved and abused to be freed from this terrible oppression. He however also said, “I urge all those in government positions to combat this scourge with firmness, giving voice to our younger brothers and sisters who have been wounded in their dignity. All efforts must be made to eradicate this shameful and intolerable crime.”
Pope Francis has spared no efforts to speak out against human trafficking. He has brought his care and concern for the victims of human trafficking to higher levels: to diplomatic effort and to a theological approach based on the notion of ‘human ecology.’
In June 2015, his path-breaking encyclical Laudato Si’, (on the Care of our Common Home’) highlighted the connection between ecological and human trafficking issues, stating that “a sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted. This compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment.”(#91)
On December 12, 2013, in a speech to a group of ambassadors newly accredited to the Vatican Pope Francis underscored that it is a disgrace that persons “are treated as objects, deceived, assaulted, often sold many times for different purposes and, in the end, killed or, in any case, physically and mentally harmed, ending up discarded and abandoned.”
Later in a message in March 2014 to the faithful in Brazil on the occasion of the Annual Lenten Campaign on the theme ‘Brotherhood and human trafficking,’ Pope Francis wrote, “It is not possible to remain indifferent before the knowledge that human beings are bought and sold like goods. I think of the adoption of children for the extraction of their organs, of women deceived and forced to prostitute themselves, of workers exploited and denied their rights or a voice, and so on. This is human trafficking!”
The Global effort to combat human trafficking focuses on the well-known approach of three pillars (3Ps): Prevention, Protection and Prosecution. Recently (April 3rd 2017) The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)’s ‘17th Alliance against Trafficking in Persons Conference’, took place in Vienna.
Pope Francis’ message to the Conference was delivered by Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, Under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. He said, “The establishment of effective networks to prevent the trade, protect victims and prosecute traffickers is a real key to success, as Pope Francis stated in 2016:
“It is important that ever more effective and incisive cooperation be implemented, based not only on the exchange of information, but also on the reinforcement of networks capable of assuring timely and specific intervention; and this, without underestimating the strength that ecclesial communities reveal especially when they are united in prayer and fraternal communion.
The formation of partnerships to fight trafficking must be based on recognition of the contribution that each partner can offer according to its abilities and skills, coupled with deep respect for the principle of subsidiarity. Let us not forget that different partners have distinct attributes. Many victims turn to civil and religious organizations because they have learned to mistrust public institutions or are afraid of being punished (retribution).
That is why it is important that the institutions collaborate regularly with such organizations in the formulation and implementation of effective programs and the provision of the necessary tools. Encounter, networking, social media and spirituality are among the useful means exercising partnership
A very significant partner in this part of the world is the Asian Movement of Women Religious Against Human Trafficking (AMRAT), which is a network of over fifty religious congregations of South Asia, with a ‘collaborative commitment’ to address key issues and to find solutions and put an end to this modern-day form of slavery and exploitation.
Since its inception a few years ago AMRAT members have done creditable work among victims of human trafficking. Many others have to learn from and emulate such initiatives.
As we observe yet another day devoted to a fight against human trafficking, we need to pledge that we will show the courage and commitment to eliminate this crime against humanity, from the face of the earth!
(Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a well-known human rights activist .He is currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. Contact: email@example.com)