Vatican Holds Conference focused on Grassroots Change with Human Trafficking

by David O'Neill

 

Though it is impossible to procure exact numbers (most estimates range between 25 and 46 million), it is understood that the amount of people in slavery is likely at an all-time high. Not only that, but it is a growing industry. According to the International Labor Organization, human trafficking is a $150 billion-a-year industry. Recognizing this crisis as an attack on human dignity and a grave moral crime, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences hosted a workshop with the Global Alliance for Legal Aid. The workshop brought together human trafficking survivors, clergy, religious, and international lawyers all focused on one common goal: the eradication of human trafficking. The goal of the workshop was to formulate a “Victims Charter”, a document that would clearly lay out the rights that victims have and give a framework for reintegration into society. The founder of the Global Alliance for Legal aid, a US based association of lawyers that provides legal help to third world countries, talked about the need to focus on helping victims after they are liberated as well as before. She was quoted in an article by Catholic News Agency as asking, “How is this person going to restart their life?”, noting that victims are often left with a “slew of problems” such as mental trauma, physical impairments, poor education and lack of employable skills.

This need to help victims reintegrate into society prompted the drafting of a

“Victims Charter”. This charter, which lays out a framework for healing and reintegration, is a set of tangible proposals taken directly from victims and victims’ advocates. Margaret Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, explained that survivors were included as part of the workshop so that participants could hear first-hand from their sisters and brothers about the experience of human trafficking and potential solutions. In the workshop booklet Archer explained that she hoped to hear evaluations of current services in place from the survivors. She wrote that she hoped to, "pinpoint what we did that deterred their progress toward the life they sought and what we did -- besides providing bed and board -- that was experienced by them as life-enhancing… here's a lot of rhetoric about empowerment, giving voice ... which don't really get (survivors) very far in paying the rent, buying the food, finding schools for the children.”

 

One of the survivors who bravely shared their stories was Rani Hong, who was kidnapped as a 7-year-old girl in India and sold into slavery. She talked about how the human trafficking trade is about more than prostitution and forced labor, it includes selling babies for adoption and organ harvest as well. She drew a contrast between human trafficking and the drug trade saying, “In drug trafficking, you sell the product once.” “Children are sold over and over and over. Selling children for adoption is increasing, but it’s not being discussed. There’s not one country that’s immune to it. We need to be able to educate the public, to have mainstream media talk about it.” She knows about the rise in selling children for adoption because she herself was sold for adoption when she was eight. Near death, her captors saw that she would not produce a profit from forced labor or prostitution “But they wanted one more profit from me, so my captor sold me into international adoption in Canada.”

 

Archer explained that she hopes by involving members of the Church, from clergy and religious to laypeople and “harnessing the Church’s existing recourses" we can produce tangible grassroots change and start an international collaboration effort. One of the participants in the press conference that followed the conference, John McEldowney, stated, “The heart of the matter is individuals being motivated to take responsibility in terms of our humanity, which is a part of Pope Francis’ message. In our humanity we find our answer, and the answer is that we’re helping our neighbor. Who’s the neighbor? The one who’s been trafficked, and who might eventually become part of our community.”


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