(Source: CD/Vatican News)

According to Caritas Internationalis, the number of people falling prey to human trafficking has increased to a “worrying” level due to coronavirus lockdown measures.

40 million people trafficked

For the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons today, July 30, the world-wide Catholic confederation, whose members are directly involved with efforts to end trafficking in human persons, urged governments to intensify efforts “to identify victims of trafficking and exploitation, the number of which is worryingly increasing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Caritas Internationalis jointly issued a statement Tuesday with COATNET, a network of 46 Christian organizations engaged in combating human trafficking.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) 40 million people in the world are trapped in the grip of human traffickers.

“Preoccupying reality”

Aloysius John, Caritas Internationalis’ general secretary, denounced the tragedy which COVID-19 has exacerbated:

“We denounce a preoccupying reality for vulnerable people and [an] increase in risk of trafficking. Focused attention to the pandemic must not prevent us from taking care of the people most vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.

And this is what local Caritas and COATNET member organisations are doing all over the world, along with other civil society organisations, providing much-needed safety nets for victims of trafficking and exploitation, even during the pandemic, and accompanying them in their difficulties, offering material, medical, legal and psychological help.”

Attention diverted

While governments’ attention has been focused on the health pandemic, Caritas and COATNET report that “collateral damage” continues in the “ongoing pandemic” of human trafficking.

Migrants and informal workers are the most vulnerable, the statement says. They have been most hard hit by measures enacted by governments to contain the spread of the virus.

Furthermore, lockdown measures have increased the difficulty for trafficking victims “of escaping and finding help when they are held in situations against their will.”

To further aggravate an already dire situation, the organizations assisting trafficked persons have themselves “faced decreases” in financial support and thus, in their ability to provide services.

92,000 cases of child abuse reported in India in just 11 days

Children are especially vulnerable. The statement highlights the plight of children in India, where, over 11 days, 92,000 cases of child abuse were reported.

Caritas India also reports “an increase in cases of child labour and child marriage.” Those children relying on schools to fill the gap, providing food and shelter, have been forced to take to the streets.

Both organizations make an appeal “for urgent and targeted measures to support workers in informal sectors such as domestic work, agricultural and construction work, where most vulnerable workers (i.e. undocumented migrants) can be found.”

Specific priorities for governments

The joint statement ends listing four priorities, urging governments: 

  1. To provide trafficked persons with access to basic services: shelters, hotlines, the justice system and support organisations;
  2. To advocate for the protection of children from abuse and exploitation, particularly over the internet;
  3. To put in place urgent and targeted measures to support workers in informal sectors and to intensify efforts in identifying victims of trafficking and exploitation, through greater control and measures, such as labour inspections;
  4. To urge every single person to become vigilant and to denounce cases of human trafficking and exploitation.

One in four trafficking victims in Europe is a child

In the meantime, in other shocking news on the human trafficking front, a new report from Save the Children Italy has revealed that one in four victims of trafficking in Europe is under 18, while two out of three are women or girls.

The just-released report by the charity also shows that 56% of identified trafficking cases registered in the European Union in 2019 were related to trafficking for sexual exploitation.

“Little Invisible Slaves”

Entitled “Little Invisible Slaves 2019”, the report was released just days before today’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.

It notes that a high percentage of victims of trafficking are estimated to be living in Italy, with the number of underage victims increasing in one year from 9 to 13%. 

The authors of the report claim that the extensive data analysed to draw up the document represents only the surface of a mostly hidden issue. But, they maintain, it confirms an increasingly younger age of victims and the prevalence of sexual exploitation, with one in five victims aged 15 or younger, and sexual exploitation affecting almost nine out of ten trafficked children.

Focussing on the reality of the trade in Italy, Save the Children says most trafficked girls are from Nigeria, followed by Romania, Bulgaria and Albania – all of them countries in which conditions of poverty and inadequate access to schools make it easy for traffickers to lure the young girls to Italy with the false promise of a job.

The report features many direct testimonies that show how the sexual exploitation of such young and vulnerable victims leaves an indelible mark on their lives, with very serious consequences that impact a possible future of inclusion, dignity and autonomy.

The plight of Nigerian victims

A chapter is dedicated to the plight of the Nigerian girls and women who arrive in Italy after journeys through Libya and by sea, where they are subjected to abuse and violence and are then indebted to ruthless pimps who perpetuate their exploitation, depriving them of their documents and freedom and blackmailing their families. 

Access to the International Protection System

Save the Children calls for access for every single survivor of trafficking to the International Protection System to escape those who have done them such harm.

It also promotes activities and partnerships that aim to protect the underage victims and those who have just become adults, and to support them in travelling a path of healing, inclusion and social integration.

More on Novena on the Church’s fight against human trafficking:

Holy See “indignant” over discrepancy between 25 million victims of human trafficking and 12,000 prosecuted worldwide for crime

Holy See clamours in Human Rights Council: “Trafficking in persons should have no place in the human family”

Amid virus crisis, International Catholic Migration Commission pledges continuing closeness to refugees, victims of human trafficking

Nuns in Italy, world step up to front lines in fight for migrant women, against human trafficking

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.