40 million enslaved by human trafficking: ‘Cops and clergy’ join forces
UNITED NATIONS — The challenge is growing. The risk is widening. The stakes are stark. Those are some of the key takeaways from a UN press briefing on an expanding and dangerous global challenge; human slavery and sex trafficking where forty million lives hang in a precarious balance between enslavement and freedom.
The Santa Marta Group, an anti-slavery watchdog group, presented the briefing “Cops and Clergy” where Vincent Cardinal Nichols of Westminster, UK along with the British Anti-Slavery Commissioner, as well as the Chief of the Argentine National Police briefed correspondents and diplomats on the clear threat posed by traffickers who enslave vulnerable unfortunates both in the sex industry as well as unpaid agricultural and fishing work.
Cardinal Nichols stated there’s growing cooperation between the Churches and the forces of law and order but the partnership must above all be based on “trust.” Given the breadth of the trans-national challenge, it’s significant that both security as well as spiritual forces combine their efforts to help locate, free and then nurture those people caught in the web of human traffickers.
As Cardinal Nichols stressed, “This is an evil crime in an international scale… the figures are quite shocking. It is estimated that globally forty million lives are kept in conditions of servitude.”
The Santa Marta Group, formed in 2014, comprises an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops from around the world working together with civil society in a process endorsed by Pope Francis, “to eradicate human trafficking and modern day slavery.” The Pope describes trafficking as “an open wound on the body of contemporary society…it is a crime against humanity.”
“While there is a distinction between refugees, migrants and people who pay to be smuggled, there is an almost limitless supply of victims to be trafficked,” conceded Cardinal Nichols.
General Commissioner Nestor Roncaglia of the Argentine Federal Police asserts, “trafficking transcends borders.” Combatting the scourge requires a “trusting partnership between the State and the Church.”
Britain’s Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland elaborated; “When I was at the Metropolitan Police in the anti-trafficking group, I came to understand the power and capacity of the Church. The Church can do its part of offer solace to the victims while the police pursue the criminals.”
“We also need to look at the International stage; how do we get development to a country where people have no opportunity? To find the kind of development that takes away the power of the traffickers and gives the community the opportunity to thrive?”
“This is a major industry, a profitable organized network,” which Commissioner Hyland says makes criminals $150 billion annually.” But such organized crime thrives “where there is poverty and people don’t have rights this is more likely to happen. Now 73 percent of trafficked persons are women. It’s thus a gender issue too,” he adds.
Interestingly several countries, including Belgium, the UK and Serbia, trafficking for labor exploitation has overtaken sexual exploitation as the main form of human trafficking, according to the Santa Marta group.
The U.S. State Department asserts; “Human trafficking is one of the most tragic human rights issues of our time. It splinters families, distorts global markets, undermines the rule of law, and spurs other transnational criminal activity. It threatens public safety and national security.”
Commissioner Hyland stressed, “People who are victims of modern slavery should never be prosecuted.” The Cardinal concurs, “Trust between agents of the police and trafficked people must be established. In London that trust was that victims would be treated as victims and not as criminals. Only when you get to that point that we see victims can testify against their traffickers.”
When this correspondent asked which particular region of the world is the source of most trafficking, Commissioner Hyland asserted, “Asia remains the major source of trafficking, but
Nigeria in West Africa is high too.”
Cardinal Nichols confirms, “One principal became very clear; there is no nation that is not both a nation of origin of trafficking as well as a nation of destination, none of us are out of this. We might think of this as a Third World problem. This is everywhere and none of us are outside the loop.”
Suffice to say if this sounds fuzzy, focus for a moment on the upcoming FIFA World Cup football matches in Russia which shall provide a lucrative venue for sexual trafficking and prostitution. So too does the American Super Bowl.
Cardinal Nichols implored, “We need to recognize that organized crime is precisely that: organized. We are not. ”
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]