Find More Mercy Projects

Opposing Human Trafficking

Spread the word

A Shared Commitment to Opposing Human Trafficking

February 6, 2017

On 18 October 2016 the EU held its 10th Annual Anti-trafficking Day. The National Rapporteur of the Netherlands in a Statement asks this rhetorical question: “What is commitment? Commitment is an irrevocable dedication to fight for something, time and time again. It is unconditional and sustainable. And commitment needs to be heard, seen and felt”. And that is what is being asked of us at a time when the human rights of individuals are continually being eroded and ignored on a profound scale, resulting in millions suffering from degrading and humiliating lives.

Pope Francis, a fearless champion working to eradicate human trafficking, which he equates with modern slavery, also stresses the rights of individuals and their dignity. “Things have a price and can be for sale, but people have a dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things.”

“The injustice of modern slavery and human trafficking still tears at our social fabric”, said Barack Obama as he launched the United States National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, January 2017. This statement can apply to every country in the world today where children, women, and men are trafficked and exploited for their bodies and their labour and the financial gain of others. In spite of all the local, national, regional and global efforts, human trafficking appears to be on the increase and we are called to do something more.

January 11 is National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness in the U.S. Many other Regions and countries hold anti-trafficking awareness days throughout any year. Raising Awareness days provide an opportunity to reflect on our shared responsibility and show solidarity with victims, survivors and those who are engaged in Anti-trafficking work.

Speaking at a special event marking the UN World Day against Trafficking in Persons, 30 July, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov noted that "for too long, migrant smugglers and human traffickers have gone about their business with impunity” and he called on the international community to stop human traffickers and migrant smugglers as part of the coordinated response to the refugee crisis and migration challenge.

In calling human trafficking a parasitic crime that feeds on vulnerability, thrives in times of uncertainty, and profits from inaction, Mr Fedotov, speaking in Southeast Asia believes that with greater understanding and by working together, we can give trafficking victims, as well as the many children, women and men on the move who are most vulnerable to human trafficking, a much-needed voice and a helping hand.

Around the time of UN World Day, the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is published annually by the U.S. Government. It is “the product of a year-long effort requiring contributions and follow-up from employees in the United States and at our diplomatic outposts across the globe, host country governments, and civil society." said John F Kerry, then United States Secretary of State.

At the launch of TIP Report 2016, Susan Coppedge, Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, noted that as well as the usual format which analyses governments’ prosecution, protection, and prevention effort, the Report features ways governments can identify people most at-risk and reduce their vulnerability. The more governments understand the needs of these populations, the better they can partner with civil society to support communities and educate individuals to prevent their being exploited. She also notes the importance of prevention, of how to stop people from being trafficked. “We need to expose the lies traffickers tell to recruit unsuspecting individuals and ensure those who are recruited can safely report any fraud, coercion, or abuse… we should also support organizations, faith groups, and governments to help avert the crime by providing those at risk with real opportunities, including jobs, education, and housing.”

This has already been highlighted by Mercy sister, Angela Reed and Marietta Latonio in their book, I have a Voice: Trafficked Women in their Own Words (89 pps; PDF), based on PhD research on Reframing Human Trafficking: A Human Rights, Life Course Approach. This research uses a “life course” perspective to understand and address the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation in the Philippines. This publication was also the basis of #16Days16Stories, containing short videos on the women’s stories, as well as questions for reflection, points to ponder and steps for action. In highlighting the importance of giving a human face to sex trafficking in order to understand the “life course perspective”, Angela’s work points to a fresh approach for many active in bringing an end to human trafficking.

“Commitment is a prerequisite, but needs to be translated into concrete actions; we must speak up and act, and the problem must be felt by everyone, so that the dignity and the freedom of people can no longer be compromised.” Rapporteur Statement, 18 October 2016

As I write this Sisters of Mercy throughout the world are actively engaged with issues that arise from the many facets of human trafficking. Many sisters are in partnership with others in taking action for Anti-Trafficking days in their own countries, thus also widening the circle of interconnectedness and inclusion for refugees and displaced peoples.

What can we do?

  • Make a Commitment re at least one of the following:
  • Check out where your own government stands in the current TIP Report
  • Take action on any weakness of your government highlighted in the Report
  • Provide concrete support to women in need through befriending, supporting vocational training and economic initiatives
  • Be more alert and watch out for what is happening in your own area; for what is hidden in broad daylight. If you notice something alert the authorities
  • Pray and Use some of the many reflective Prayer Rituals available:
    US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking
  • Talitha Kum (UISG)
  • Celebrate the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita on 8 February

Catherine Gibbons rsm,
February 2017

 Image: iStock. Used under licence