In two new documents on migration and human trafficking released Thursday, the Vatican has emphasized the need to step up international collaboration and prosecution of traffickers, while also providing support to victims.
Spearheaded by the Migrants and Refugees section of the Vatican dicastery for Integral Human Development, the two documents were released Jan. 17 and presented to media by the two undersecretaries of the office who oversee the section, Italian Monsignor Fabio Baggio and Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, along with the head of the Vatican communications department, Italian layman Paolo Ruffini.
The first document, called “Lights on the Ways of Hope,” is a collection of papal reflections on migration, refugees and trafficking which includes his speeches, homilies, audiences, prayers and documents going back to Easter 2013, including his 2016 exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia.
The second document, called “Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking,” is 42 pages and focuses on the reality of human trafficking and responses to the problem. It’s the fruit of a six-month long evaluation process following two global consultations with bishops’ conferences, Catholic organizations and religious communities, and experts in the field.
Described in the preface as wanting to offer “a reading of human trafficking and an understanding that motivates and sustains the much-needed long-term struggle,” the main objective of the pamphlet is to be a resource for schools, parishes, religious orders and civil organizations who want to get involved on the issue.
Given that the first text released Thursday collects previously published papal material, most attention is likely to focus on the fresh analysis of trafficking offered in the second.
The need for a cultural change
In ten “observations” on trafficking, the pamphlet notes that until recently the idea was associated with colonialism and the slave trade, which, though abolished, are repeating themselves in new forms.
These forms, it says, are indicative “of immoral social, cultural and economic systems and practices” which fuel consumerism and increase inequality. Coupled with this, the document reads, are growing individualist and egocentric attitudes which view the human person through a lens of “cool utility,” prioritizing profit and depriving people of their dignity, commodifying them “to the advantage of a few.”
“If the human family wishes to stamp out HT (human trafficking), society itself will have to change,” it says, adding that the economic, social and cultural criteria shaping modern societies “need to be subjected to profound ethical assessment,” prioritizing the dignity and integral development of all.
Much of the discussion on trafficking, the document says, is focused on the perpetrators, while there’s little talk of consumers, who ultimately drive the market and “constitute a huge mass who seem largely unaware of the exploitation of persons who are trafficked yet enjoy the benefits and services they provide.”
“If men, women and children are trafficked, this is ultimately because there is great demand that makes their exploitation profitable,” the pamphlet says, stressing that accountability, prosecution and punishment are needed in order to reduce demand.
Punishment of those exploited is not an effective solution, “since it simply results in blaming and punishing the victims,” the document reads, saying that instead, the vast market for these services, specifically sexual services such as pornography, internet cyber-sex, strip clubs and dancing venues, “needs to be laid bare,” and awareness campaigns launched at both national and international levels.
Purchasing sexual services from a prostitute “has nothing to do with love,” the pamphlet says. “Instead, it is a serious offense against human dignity.”
Cracking down on the business and increasing prosecution
Despite increasing public statements and commitments by both state and non-state actors, many are still ignorant about trafficking or lack training, and victims are often “invisible,” the text says, recommending that educational and awareness campaigns be increased, especially among youth.
Once a problem is identified, it must be reported through the right channels - a process the document says can be slowed down due to lengthy police investigations, corruption, and a lack of cooperation by third-party authorities, as well as a lack of resources and clear parameters of jurisdiction. Victims also often hesitate to come forward out of fear, shame or threats, making it difficult to prosecute.
The document offers a series of recommendations to help streamline the process, including the implementation of international agreements and standards that respect migrant rights, encouraging survivors to participate in the prosecution of their traffickers, and assuring them of protection.
In addition to sexual exploitation, the document also underlines the business aspect of trafficking, particularly in the agricultural, fishing, construction and mining industries.
Because the crime of trafficking is easily hidden in current business models, the document says there’s an “urgent need for ethical assessment of current business models, aimed at revealing the mechanisms of entrapment and exploitation adopted by companies.”
The Church, it said, has a specific role to play in defining the ethical and moral guidelines of these new models.
With increased pressure to cut labor costs in increasingly competitive markets, trafficking is often masked within the “labyrinth” of supply chains, the pamphlet says, noting that workers are often forced to sign exploitative contracts - a problem the pamphlet says must be “promptly and properly addressed, both by raising public awareness and through legislation.”
“To encourage a fair economic model promoting the integral human development of all,” the document says, “legislation should require all companies, particularly those working transnationally and outsourcing in developing countries, to invest in the transparency and accountability of their supply chains.”
In addition, the document recommends regulations which require employment contracts to be duly established without abusive clauses, and which are duly respected. Ensuring good working conditions, it said, “helps us to see that work is for the person and not the other way around.”
Trafficking in migration
On the migration issue, the document says the line between migrant smuggling, often done through dangerous routes at a high price, and trafficking “is growing thinner.” Compounding the issue, it says, is an increased flow of migrants coupled with “the lack of accessible and legal alternatives” to smugglers.
Preventing the trafficking of migrants, according to the pamphlet, means first of all ensuring people are not forced to leave their homelands, but for those who do leave, reliable information on migration and asylum must be provided. Parents and family members, it said, are the first ones responsible for educating their children on the issue.
The document also stresses the need to “bolster cooperation” among national and international institutions, particularly in the areas of prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership.
“Lack of cooperation - or even competition - among various state actors often renders well-intentioned policies and programs ineffective,” it said, adding that cooperation and coordination at all levels are “crucial and fundamental” to eradicate trafficking.
In order to fully crack down, this cooperation and coordination must involve multiple parties, the pamphlet says, including civil society, faith-based organizations and religious leaders, as well as those in the business and media sectors. The document also stresses the need for greater collaboration among different faith communities.
Support for survivors
Survivors are the heart of the final two points, with emphasis being placed on support and helping them to reintegrate into society.
Reintegration “is no simple matter” given the trauma many victims have suffered, the document says, noting that survivors often have physical, psychological and spiritual needs to be met while they attempt to cope with stigmas and recover from social isolation.
With many victims needing to pay off debts, learn new skills and find alternative employment, the process is challenging, and requires the help of experts in various fields, including social services, psychology, medicine, and education, with special attention being paid to their long-term emotional and mental health needs, whether they return to their countries of origin or stay in their host countries.
“Without full reintegration, the terrible trajectory of human trafficking will not be dismantled, nor will stigma and suffering be left behind, nor the survivor made whole or offered a chance to live a life worthy of his or her human rights and dignity,” the pamphlet says, stressing the need to offer a safe path for those who return to their home countries, and full support for those who don’t.
The document also emphasizes the importance of the spiritual dimension, which it said is key to healing and ought to form the basis of the work Catholic organizations do.
It concluded voicing hope that the points offered would serve as a framework “for planning, establishing, conducting and evaluating the whole range of actions aimed towards the important and urgent goal of overcoming human trafficking.”
“While the immediate objective is the liberation and rehabilitation of all who are entangled in human trafficking, the ultimate goal is to dismantle and eradicate this most evil and sinful enterprise of deception, entrapment, domination and exploitation,” the pamphlet says, closing with a prayer to Sudanese Saint Josephine Bakhita, herself a victim of human trafficking.