Pastoral Letter of the Southern African Catholic Bishops. To be read in churches on 14 December, 2008
“My sheep were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. So this is what the Creator Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep” (Ezekiel 34:6, 11-15).
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The trafficking of people, as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, is a real ‘scourge’ of our time. Trafficked persons are very much like sheep “scattered over the whole earth”. They are lost to their families and to society. We must all stand together, educate ourselves on this issue and work to eliminate this terrible crime from our world.
Human Trafficking or Trafficking in Persons is generally referred to as “Modern Day Slavery’’. It is difficult to comprehend that in this day and age slavery still exists: that people are bought and sold, transported all over the world, brought to unfamiliar destinations and their labour exploited. Yet, it has been suggested that slavery is more common now than at any time in world history.
Trafficking is defined as a process which consists of three phases: the recruitment, transportation and exploitation of a person by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion and deception. Exploitation includes: sexual exploitation, domestic and farm labour, as well as trafficking for the removal of organs.
Traffickers both defy the dignity of the human person and reject the International Charter of Fundamental Human Rights. They exploit conditions of poverty. Persons – especially the vulnerable- whether lured with the promise of a well paid job or taken by force, are sucked into highly organised criminal rings where they are immediately stripped of all their rights and their dignity . Drugged, raped, beaten and isolated from all that is familiar, victims are forced into dangerous and dehumanising conditions of work. They receive no pay, and are often without the means and wherewithal to escape their bondage. Eventually, they become alienated from themselves and others1. The consequences of trafficking – individual as well as social – are grave.
Due to the underground nature of trafficking, there are no official records of trafficked persons and, therefore, estimates vary widely. Some estimate that there are 27 million in slavery worldwide. Approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders each year. This does not include the millions trafficked within their own country.2 South Africa is considered a source, transit, and destination country for trafficked men, women and children.
1. For more information see International Office of Migration. Eye on Human Trafficking.11/26. Pretoria, 2006.
2. United States Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report, 2008 (http://www.state.gov/g/tip/ris/tiprpt/2008/105389.htm).
As a source country, it has come to light that young women have been trafficked from South Africa to Macau in China. Traffickers also use South Africa as a route to other destinations.
South Africa is also considered as the major destination point within the SADC region. Organisations working with trafficked women say that at least 1000 Mozambican women are trafficked each year, mostly to South Africa. Other reports say that every month thousands of children are smuggled across our international and provincial borders. Once on the other side, they are sold into slavery.3 Young women and children are favourite targets for well- organised trafficking rings, which operate freely for lack of solid laws against this practice.
Human Trafficking has to become a serious item on the public agenda, otherwise victims will continue to proliferate and suffer severely both mentally and physically. Responses to Human Rights abuses have to take into account not only the best interest of the victim but also the just punishment of the perpetrators. Since Human Trafficking is a newly recognised crime, of equal importance is the provision of specialised training and specialised personnel to tackle it.
Cooperation at all levels is of the utmost importance. One of the best defences against trafficking is for you as a community to become conversant with the reality of trafficking. You can do this by:
• Educating yourselves in what Human Trafficking is
• Making yourselves familiar with how traffickers operate
• Checking out the genuineness of job offers, be they local or overseas o Making sure children are registered
• Being alert to what is happening in the environment and
• Reporting suspicious cases of trafficking
Our National Counter-Trafficking Desk and people from the diocese who participated in training workshops, will be only too willing to assist you in this. By being alert and helping others to be alert one guards against trickery of various kinds. In this way you protect potential victims. At the same time we realise that the guilt does not stop with the trafficker alone. Basically it is a question of supply and demand and we need to address the demand. There is a growing fear that trafficking, especially of women and children, will increase significantly around the 2010 World Cup.
We remind you once again do not lose sight of our ‘Ubuntu’ values where we often hear said, “ Every child is my child”. Care and vigilance over children is necessary at all times. Because of this new threat, extra care and vigilance by all of us is essential.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “I am the good shepherd…and I lay down my life for my sheep” (John 10:14). To join the fight against human trafficking is to join Jesus in his search for these lost and scattered ones. The promise of the gospels is that the work we do to rescue and bring to safety the vulnerable and powerless is work we never do alone. Always, we are joined by a God who has gone before us, who opens our eyes, and leads us to His scattered children. “I have no hands but yours,” we can hear Jesus tell us. In other words, I cannot rescue them without you. Let us go forward with courage and faith.
3. Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery. (http://www.state.gov/g/tip/ris/tiprpt/2008/105389.htm).