The figures are frightening. Despite the struggles, war and more than a century of international law, enriched by dozens of agreements and declarations on a world level, every type of slavery and human trafficking have been banned. Still today there are thousands and thousands of victims of this dramatic phenomenon. Not by chance is the trade in human lives considered to be the second most profitable worldwide criminal enterprise after the illegal arms trade.
And while declarations are still being signed everyday, noted Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, “men, women and children live every day in conditions approximating slavery. They are bought and sold like commodities. Their inherent dignity is degraded by unscrupulous criminals who fill their pockets by this trafficking and exploitation”. The Cardinal's comment came during the course of the international conference on human trafficking, organized by the Vatican dicastery in collaboration with the Office for Migration Policy of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. The conference took place in Rome on Tuesday, 8 May.
The aim of the discussions was to underline the important contribution which
the Church can offer to the international community in fighting this terrible
crisis, by way of the billion Catholics around the world.
Explaining the Church's attention to the phenomenon, Cardinal Turkson underlined the fact that “national laws and international agreements alone cannot overcome these evils afflicting humanity. The promotion of human rights is a task which requires the conversion of hearts, above all else. We could say – paraphrasing what Pope Benedict XVI wrote about development – that the promotion of human rights is impossible without upright men and women … whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good”. This means that the efforts aiming to protect victims and the pursuit of those responsible for the trafficking must be supplemented “with a holistic approach. A major component must be educating the population in an authentic manner, especially the most vulnerable groups”.
The Cardinal President of Iustitia et Pax did not forget to place at the centre of the participant's attention those who have suffered first hand this repugnant trafficking: the victims. It is not enough to free them from conditions of exploitation to which they are subjected, he said, but it is important to walk with them on their long journey towards rehabilitation and reintegration.
Another topic brought to the attention of the participants was the
environment in which these delinquent behaviours arise. “Extending this
perspective”, the Cardinal said, “let us call on every person of good will to
engage in creating a fairer international social order, so that poverty and
underdevelopment cease to provide opportunities for traffickers to find their
And it is this terrain where the work of the Church can be the most fruitful. “Thanks to her presence all over the world and her service to every human being”, explained the President of the Pontifical Council, “the Church is engaged in prevention and in the pastoral care of the victims of trafficking on multiple levels – from the universal to the local, from the institutional to practical action in the field. Deeply convinced of the equal dignity of each one created by God in his image and likeness, the Church will not cease to make every effort to ensure that their inherent dignity is recognized and
guaranteed in every circumstance. With the hope that there will be 'neither slave nor free but all one in Christ'”.
Therefore the final message is to not be discouraged in the face of suffering on behalf of such a large part of humanity. Rather, he concluded, “We must remember that there is a great majority that opposes those who seek to enrich themselves by exploiting the lives of their fellows. It includes men and women, citizens and leaders, people of faith and those of good will, who devote their lives every day in differing organizations and roles to the fight against the scourge of human trafficking”. These are the people who need to be supported in order to defeat one of the most terrible wounds in the modern world.