Theological Reflection on Human Trafficking
When we think about the situation of human rights around the world, one of the most egregious abuses of human rights that comes to mind is modern day slavery in the form of human trafficking. That is because the traffickers abuse women, men, and children from all corners of the planet and subject them daily to various situations of exploitation. Human trafficking is a crime that can lead victims to: sexual exploitation, forced labor, domestic servitude, forced child begging, or extraction of organs.
‘The LORD said: Where is your brother?’ (Gen 4:9)
According to the International Labor Organization, it is estimated that every year between 600,000 and 800,000 men, women, and children throughout the world are victims of Human Trafficking within and outside their countries of origin. These people are forced to generate wealth for others through forced labor in different areas like prostitution, mining, agriculture, industry, or forced military recruitment.
In Peru there are between 3,000-4,000 victims of human trafficking each year. All are led by necessity, tricked by false promises of legitimate work and instead converted into sexual objects. And in Mexico, they have the largest number of trafficked persons in all the Americas. 70% are victims of the cartels, or organized crime groups, which operate throughout the country. They kidnap people of all ages and force them to work as prostitutes or other forced labor, and in many cases the local, state, and federal authorities are complicit as well.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9)
As Pope Francis reminds us in his apostolic exhortation Evangelium Gaudium, about the joy of the Gospel in the world today, we cannot be indifferent to the cry of God when we are asked, ‘Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labor? Let us not look the other way. There is greater complicity than we think. The issue involves everyone!” It truly does involve everyone when we think of all the ways we are complicit. Human trafficking does not happen in a vacuum. There are many factors that contribute to its proliferation and promulgation.
One invisible but powerful factor is the objectification of people, which prioritizes money and profits over people. We stop seeing the other as a human being, and rather we see them as a profitable resource to exploit. Are we aware of the labor practices of the large companies from whom we buy their products or use their services? Are we aware of the labor practices for the food, coffee, and tea we purchase? If not, we could be supporting human trafficking. For example in Zambia, the largest percent of forced child labor is in agriculture (including coffee and tea) and mining (metals used in products/technology sold in other countries.)
Added to this objectification is the widespread violence against women, their oversexualization, the social phenomenon of the ‘patriarchal-macho' that contributes to raising men and women within structures of domination based on gender; social myths regarding male sexuality and their demands; and the 'normalization' or tolerance of crime which demonstrates the lack of moral consistency of society. Are we not outraged that more than 80% of trafficking victims are women and girls? And don’t forget that if there were no clients, trafficking wouldn’t exist.
Another factor is unfettered global capitalism which has created drastic disparities in wealth, leaving many families struggling to survive in extreme poverty. In the search for income and opportunity, many of the poor and vulnerable become victims of human traffickers who trick them by promising a better life. It is estimated that around 15,000 people are trafficked across the border into the U.S. each year. There is no person in this world who knowing the daily conditions experienced by people in a situation of trafficking, would willing choose it. It is precisely that the victims were looking for something different for them and their families, and were tricked instead.
Trafficking also continues because it is not well understood, and not just by average citizens walking down the street, but also by authorities that fail to execute the laws and declarations that exist so that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” However as we stated earlier human trafficking is the third largest organized crime in the world and generates between 32 and 36 billion dollars a year. So there is still a lot of work to do.
‘The LORD said: What have you done?’ (Gen 4:10)
Scripture reminds us of God’s call that we have special concern for those who suffer and are the most vulnerable such as widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. “Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” Even if we don’t know their names or faces, these are our brothers and sisters; they are the suffering body of Christ in the world today. We are called to strengthen our solidarity and affirm the dignity and rights of all people, and to denounce human trafficking and the economic and social systems that support it.
Part of our work to combat human trafficking, is to bring the reality of this modern day slave trade out of the shadows and into the light, so we can recognize our own complicity. Because in the words of a survivor of human trafficking the oldest profession in the book isn’t prostitution, it’s turning a blind eye.
We must continue to educate ourselves, to reflect on the current reality in light of our faith teachings, and take action. As Jesus, the Incarnate Word, reminds us in Matthew “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my sisters or brothers, you did it to me.” We are our brother and sister’s keeper. We know where they are. We know what they are suffering. What will we do?
1) In what ways might I be complicit in creating a world where human trafficking exists?
2) What more do I want/need to learn about human trafficking in my own city/country?
3) Where do I feel called to get involved in the work to end human trafficking and promote human dignity?
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