15 June 2018
In this 2012 photo, a young Ethiopian woman plans to be smuggled to Israel — an elaborate process that would require dressing in a veil; crossing into Sudan, then Egypt, likely being arrested; claiming to be Eritrean as a cover story to prevent being sent home; and linking up with another smuggler and finding her way to Israel, where she has friends currently working as domestic servants. For more details, read The High Cost of Leaving, from the May 2012 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In a world in which it seems there are ultimately no secrets, we tend to believe that if we haven’t seen it blaring on the news, it just does not exist or at least does not exist near me.
On the other hand, we also have the expression “hidden in plain sight.”
Human trafficking is one of those things “hidden in plain sight” — an injustice against human life and dignity that afflicts far too many in our world, and in the world CNEWA serves.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines trafficking as “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power, or of a person of vulnerability, or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control of another person for the purpose of exploitation” — such as prostitution or involuntary labor. Human trafficking is also commonly referred to as “contemporary forms of slavery.”
Although human trafficking is relatively unknown to many people in Western Europe and North America, it is a huge problem. DoSomething, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) created to educate about human trafficking and to end it, estimates that:
There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves in the world
600,000 to 800,000 people — 80% of whom are woman and 50% children are trafficked across international borders annually
Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking)
Even the United States is not immune to this scourge. In 2017, 8,524 cases of human trafficking were reported across the U.S. Of this, more than 6,000 were for sex trafficking and more than 1,200 for forced labor. It is certain the number of cases reported is a small percentage of the actual trafficking going on. In addition, although there are some who dispute the statistics, it is estimated that cities where the annual Super Bowl is held often experience a spike in prostitution, a large part of which is carried on by girls and women in sexual slavery.
If this is the case in the developed world — where there are laws forbidding trafficking and law enforcement agencies to enforce those laws — one can only imagine the situation in countries where the rule of law has broken down and the fabric of society is badly rent.
One of the major works of CNEWA is to help and support refugees in the Middle East. While there is a difference in international law between smuggling people (of their own free will) into target countries and trafficking people (against their will), the distinction often blurs in regions where there are large populations of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons. In some places, the situation is so bad that people in order to survive sell themselves or their children into what is, for all practical purposes, slavery. Very often people who believe they are being smuggled end up being trafficked.
In CNEWA’s world and elsewhere, it’s important to note that women religious have been at the forefront in the battle against human trafficking and sexual slavery. Both at the United Nations and on the ground, women’s religious communities have not only pressed for laws and international conventions against trafficking, they have also put their lives on the line in preventing it, rescuing those who have been trapped in all forms of slavery and trying to eliminate the causes which would bring people to sell themselves or their children into slavery.
Sister Winifred Doherty, RGS, a Good Shepherd sister, has worked with people at risk of becoming victims of trafficking in Ethiopia. She was interviewed by CNEWA for our magazine, ONE, in 2012. Sister Winifred summed up the situation in Ethiopia and the challenges so many women are facing:
“I think in Ethiopia, particularly in the rural areas, the situation of young girls is still critical,” she said. “Lack of education, lack of opportunities for childhood, then being forced to deal with many negative cultural practices like female genital mutilation, kidnapping and forced marriage. These practices don’t help to empower and promote women. This cycle must be broken. The poverty, lack of education, lack of good economic environment — this still has deep influences on women and continues to keep them in poverty.
Having said that, I think we have to look at the more positive things that have happened, through our own services, through the help of CNEWA, and through NGOs and other religious organizations that continue to empower women. So I prefer to look at it from the positive aspect. Changes are happening and are continuing to happen.”
Tags: Migrants human trafficking