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Time to take stronger stand against modern slavery

Pope Francis has called human trafficking a crime against humanity

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Time to take stronger stand against modern slavery

Women and children in poor communities, especially places hit by disasters in the Philippines, have become vulnerable to human trafficking. (Photo by Angie de Silva) 

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Tackling human trafficking has become one of the main priorities of the Catholic Church in recent years.

In September last year, Vatican officials met with groups, including police authorities, from around the world to share experiences on how they try to combat the scourge.

Such cooperation is absolutely essential to find an efficient global response and local action to save victims and challenge criminals.

Human trafficking is rife both in developed countries and in the poorer parts of the world, including Eastern Europe where many victims of modern slavery come from.

Pope Francis has rightly called it a crime against humanity and convened the so-called Santa Martha Group headed by Cardinal Vincent Nichols to discuss areas of cooperation.

The fight against human trafficking has become a top church priority with hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees seeking refuge from violence, oppression, and hunger.

The Vatican's Migrants and Refugees Section addressed the issue at the meeting last year that resolved to come up with a plan of action to guide church people and civil society to respond to the challenge.

Human trafficking is a crime against persons forced by false promises to be taken from one place to another, treated as commodities and are exploited and coerced into servitude.

Many people may think forced labor or slavery is a thing of the past. But victims of slavery have never really disappeared. It is all around us. It has gone underground. The victims could be serving our drinks in a bar or cleaning our hotel room or working in our fields or factories.

We seldom think about the condition of foreign workers in developed countries and ignore those who work in sweatshops or those who are trafficked into brothels.

Today human traffickers facilitate the enslavement of as many as 42 million people worldwide. Men, women, and children suffer intolerable conditions of forced unpaid labor.

Victims are cheated and trapped and become bonded labor with so-called loans that they can never pay. Many are given drugs and owe debts to drug dealers. Threats of violence keep them in a state of docility and fear.

There are over a million children enslaved, many of whom are in the sex industry. It is tolerated, accepted, and seldom opposed even by Christian populations. Citizens allow sex slavery to thrive by their apathy and indifference.

Child abuse drives children to run away into the streets where traffickers easily recruit them. About 70 percent of sex workers were first sexually abused as children in their own homes.

In the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries, most brothels and sex bars operate with a government permit. Although prostitution is illegal, it thrives with the connivance of authorities.

The Philippine president even joked during a visit to India that he would offer virgins to tourists to lure them to the Philippines. 

The first thing to do to combat human trafficking is to support preventive education to help people in the supply countries be aware of the dangers of trusting traffickers and labor recruiters.

Where trafficking is prevalent, education campaigns are needed to awaken the conscience and sensitivity of the public to the plight of victims. 

We can deploy a trained, church-based awareness and rescue team to save victims and educate the public. The team should have a paralegal officer to respond to incidents of human trafficking.

We need more professionals to run therapeutic centers for victims. In these homes, victims can find protection, therapy, comfort, and legal assistance.

An uncorrupted police unit trained to respond and collect and present evidence to a skilled prosecutor before a just judge is essential to obtaining justice for victims. 

It is time to act together to end this evil.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse. 

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