By FR JOHN FLYNN, LC
THE recent news about three women who were kept prisoners in a London home has gone around the world. It drew attention to the problem of slavery and trafficking in persons.
In 2012 the UK Human Trafficking Centre, part of the National Crime Agency, said it had identified 2255 potential victims of human trafficking – an increase of 178 (9 per cent) on 2011, the BBC reported on November 22. The report said that the two most prevalent types of exploitation reported were sexual exploitation – 35 per cent of the potential victims, followed by labor exploitation at 23 per cent.
In other recent news on the topic, in November the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights announced that United Nations Special Rapporteur Gulnara Shahinian would be visiting Ghana, to assess the situation with regard to slavery-like practices in the country.
In October the enormous extent of slavery was revealed in a report published by the Walk Free Foundation, based in Perth, Western Australia. The foundation, which has 20 staff members, was founded in May last year by Andrew Forrest – the chairman of Fortescue Metals Group –and his wife Nicola. Fortescue Metals is one of Australia’s top 20 companies and the fourth-largest supplier of iron ore in the world.
The inaugural report of “The Global Slavery Index” stated that 29.8 million people are enslaved around the world.
India has the highest number of people enslaved in absolute terms, with approximately 14 million people, which the report noted is almost half of the total number worldwide. It is not so much a question of foreigners being exploited, the report noted, but that many Indians are the victims of debt bondage and bonded labor.
In overall numbers China came second with an estimated 2.9 million enslaved. The other countries in the top 10 were Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The top 10 have just over 22 million of the total number.
Looked at in terms of a proportion of the population, slavery is highest in Mauritania, where it is estimated that there are 150,000 slaves in a population of only 3.8 million. Haiti and Pakistan come in second and third place respectively.
Modern slavery, the report explained, is not well understood and also largely hidden, with criminals using a wide variety of means to conceal and rationalise it. Although most forms of slavery are illegal the report commented that the laws are rarely enforced.
The 2013 US Trafficking in Persons Report said that 46,570 victims of human trafficking were officially identified in 2012. There were, however, only 7705 prosecutions, and 4750 convictions recorded globally.
The prevalence of slavery is linked to other factors, according to the report. For example, there is a high correlation between slavery and corruption. Lower levels of human development and economic well-being are other related issues.
For some time the Vatican has been engaged on the subject of slavery and human trafficking. The latest example of this was at the beginning of November when the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, together with the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, held what was termed a “preparatory workshop” on the issue.
“Any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people – men, women, girls and boys – are equal and have the same freedom and dignity constitutes a grave crime against humanity,” said the concluding statement from the November 2-3 meeting.
There is a “compelling need” it continued, to put an end to trafficking in human beings.
“It is our moral imperative to make ours the last generation that has to fight the trade in human lives,” the statement said.
It finished with a series of recommendations for action by the Vatican, international organisations, businesses and governments.
Pope Francis touched on the issue of slavery in the just-published apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel.
“I have always been distressed at the lot of those who are victims of various kinds of human trafficking. How I wish that all of us would hear God’s cry: ‘Where is your brother?’ (Gen 4:9),” he wrote.
He went on to ask: “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 labour.”
“Let us not look the other way,” Pope Francis urged, saying that this issue involves everyone. “This infamous network of crime is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity.”