Human Trafficking knows no boundaries and can exist at a national level as well as a transnational one. It is one of the most horrific crimes committed in today’s society and places people in situations of slavery, where human beings are treated as a commodity to be bought and sold or put into forced labour usually in the sex industry but also in agriculture, sweatshops and domestic servitude.
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The European Commission of Human Rights defines servitude as being forced “to live and work on another person’s property and perform certain services for them, whether paid or unpaid, together with being unable to alter one’s condition”.
Human trafficking is often enforced by the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, deception, or abuse of power. This enforcement takes advantage of the victim’s vulnerability and abuses the economic insecurity or poverty of an adult hoping to provide for their family in very difficult circumstances. It also takes the form of the enticement of children for use in pedophilia or prostitution rings. Many victims of human trafficking do not realise they are victims. They may not speak the language and may have had their legal documents taken from them. They may be physically and sexually abused and threatened that if they attempt to escape, their families will be harmed. They are completely powerless.
The United Nations estimates that nearly 2.5 million people from 127 different countries are being trafficked around the world for forced labour, bonded labour and forced prostitution. Human trafficking is the third most lucrative illicit money making venture in the world.
The case studies presented in E News this year have highlighted the work of Mercy Sisters on the issue of trafficking at grassroots level. In Ireland Sisters of Mercy provide safe houses and support to access education and new employment to women who are trafficked. They accompany women to court when necessary. They are also involved at the advocacy and educational level, working with the network APT (Act to Prevent Trafficking) to raise awareness in schools. They lobby for improved legislation at the national, EU and UN level. They are part of the Global networks RENATE and UNANIMA, international campaigns to stop the demand for trafficking of women and children.
In the United States, Sisters of Mercy are the primary funders of the Willow Tree Justice Project in Kansas City, an organization which works with women who have been trafficked within the United States. It provide emotional support, drug and mental health programmes as well as advocacy and navigation of the criminal justice and social service systems. The Programme’s success is measured in the reductions in number of arrests, completion of probation and parole requirements, resolution of legal cases, and obtaining of housing, food stamps and counseling for its clients.
The Office of Social Concern in the Diocese of San Bernardino, California has set up a Trafficking Committee to increase people’s awareness of trafficking in many dioceses throughout the US. They show DVDs after Mass on Sundays to help people become more aware of the issue. They also provide immediate help for trafficked people. They work closely with law enforcement agencies who provide support to their work.
Sisters of Mercy provide refuge for trafficked women in Moreno, Buenos Aires, Argentina. They also engage in the issue at the political level. Sisters are involved in advocacy and lobbying to end trafficking. They were part of a group of over 150 people in the small border city of Clorinda, Formosa, Argentina, who signed a declaration this spring promising to combat the trafficking of persons.
Women@thewell is an innovative charity founded by the Sisters of Mercy in the United Kingdom which aims to provide a uniquely holistic and multi-faceted range of services to vulnerable women, including women who are trafficked equipping them with the skills, resources and support that they need, to successfully rejoin society.
As a result of the level of work carried out by the Sisters of Mercy in the area of trafficking, a survey carried out by Mercy International Association (MIA) Congregations and Institutes indicated that Trafficking should be a priority issue for MIA Global Action.
MIA is working to strengthen the positions taken by the United Nation and the EU on Human Trafficking. The United Nations passed the Palermo protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nation Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. The Council of Europe has passed a Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.
MIA is assessing how best to link, strengthen and coordinate what is going on nationally on human trafficking with human trafficking advocacy at the EU and UN policy level.
The interim coordinator for Global Action at the UN is also focusing UN lobbying efforts on human trafficking through the NGO Committee Against Trafficking in Persons at the UN.
MIA Global Action and Trafficking
MIA Global Action has now established a working group on Trafficking to take their work forward.
The Trafficking working group will be responsible for developing the work of MIA on this issue. The working group is composed of people working at the grassroots level, of academics with theoretical knowledge of the subject area and of theologians who can reflect on the materials from a theological perspective. Through this process of praxis, the working group will bring the Mercy stories locally to the UN and EU global forum and will advocate to change policies affecting the lives of people who have been trafficked.
A subcommittee of the working group has been established to look at the theological basis for Mercy work on trafficking, to incorporate Mercy values of Justice, Dignity, Non violence and empowerment and to communicate to MIA members and associates as to why human trafficking is an important concern for the Sisters of Mercy.
The group is also looking at possibilities for common campaigns for example against trafficking at the Olympics to be held in the UK in 2012. It will also develop common education materials that could be used with Mercy justice groups and schools.
Messages to Mary Purcell - Assistant Director Global Action