Cardinal Nichols: Human trafficking is an evil that must be stopped
The Santa Marta Group met in New York last week to discuss ending the £100 billion human trafficking and slavery industry
Cardinal Vincent Nichols has said human trafficking is an “evil crying out to heaven” that needs urgent action from the international community.
“That there are over 20 million people callously held in modern slavery in our world today is a mark of deep shame on the face of our human family that no words alone can remove”, the Cardinal said while speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
He went on to explain the motivation of the Church in fighting this social scourge: “A radical commitment to the dignity of every human person, a dignity which has to be protected and promoted in every circumstance and time; a dignity which does not depend on the abilities or status of a person but which is rooted entirely in the inner depth of the person’s existence, in the gift of human life which always comes from the Divine Creator who has shown himself to be our loving Father.”
Cardinal Nichols was speaking at an event jointly organised by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN and the Santa Marta Group. Speakers at the event last week addressed the theme: "Ending Human Trafficking by 2030: The Role of Global Partnerships in Eradicating Modern Slavery".
The Santa Marta Group was founded by Pope Francis in 2014 to strengthen and coordinate the global response to combating human trafficking and modern slavery, which is a global industry believed to be worth over £100 billion a year.
Currently, more than 21 million people are held in human slavery, said Cardinal Nichols. The number compares to 12 million people enslaved during the trans-Atlantic slave trade of the nineteenth century, according to Kevin Hyland, the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
Cardinal Nichols said human slavery and trafficking strips people of their fundamental dignity and reduces them to the status of a commodity. People of goodwill must "rescue, protect, assist and serve the poorest of the Father's children who have been sold into slavery, even as Joseph was sold into slavery in the beginning", he said.
Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Nichols to lead the Santa Marta Group, an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops from 36 countries working with civil society to eradicate human trafficking and modern-day slavery. It was launched in 2014 and named after the Pope's residence, where participants in the initial conference stayed.
The group grew out of a partnership established in London in 2012 between the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales and the Metropolitan Police Service Human Trafficking Unit.
Cardinal Nichols said women religious in London worked with Scotland Yard in an "unlikely partnership" aimed at rescuing trafficked individuals and prosecuting their traffickers. He said early concerns that police would prosecute the victims faded over time as trust grew between the two groups.
The Santa Marta Group brings together the competence and duty of law enforcement, people with decision-making authority to implement strategic change, and the community and compassion of the Church, resulting in huge incremental efficiencies in the fight against modern-day slavery, he said.
Cardinal Nichols said the cooperation is an example of the global partnerships that are essential for the United Nations to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 goals adopted in September 2015 commit nations to a 15-year effort to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. There are specific targets within the goals to eliminate violence against women, eradicate forced labour, and end modern slavery and human trafficking.
In many places, the Catholic Church has the "biggest reach" in a community and provides the opportunity for trafficked people to seek help and safety, Cardinal Nichols said. The Church also has a role in raising awareness, and the extent and complexity of the situation should encourage people to tell their stories, check supply routes for the goods and services they buy and keep their eyes and ears open, he said.
Loreto Sister, Imelda Poole, described her work with religious congregations in 19 countries to protect trafficking victims and offer rehabilitation and alternative income programs.
Donna Hubbard, a trafficking victim, great-grandmother and flight attendant, said trafficking has no colour, gender, nationality or economic status. Her captors controlled her with threats against her children as she was "sold or traded for sex, drugs, money and even weapons".
Hubbard, a minister and member of several groups that work against prostitution and trafficking, said: "We can no longer ignore this as something that happens to someone else."
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican ambassador to the United Nations, opened the conference with a letter from Pope Francis. The letter said modern slavery and human trafficking are a "scourge throughout the world today" and urged governmental, civic and religious organisations to combat this "crime against humanity".
The Pope wrote: "I encourage you to strengthen the bonds of cooperation and communication which are essential to ending the suffering of the many men, women and children who today are enslaved and sold as if they were a mere commodity."
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