The EU Bishops and a Vatican diplomat have denounced human trafficking, calling it “a source of shame for humanity that must no longer be tolerated”.

Trafficking “a crime that disfigures”: COMECE Secretary General

Ahead of the EU Anti-Trafficking Day this Sunday October 18, the Secretary General of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), Fr. Manuel Enrique Barrios Prieto, warned in a statement that people trafficking and other forms of modern slavery “are a worldwide problem that needs to be taken seriously by the international community”.

Human trafficking “represents one of the most dramatic manifestations of the commercialization of the other, a crime that disfigures both the victims as well as those who carry it out, and a source of shame for humanity that our authorities and societies must no longer tolerate, as Pope Francis has emphasized”, Barrios Prieto stressed.

The COMECE Secretary General called on the EU and its member states “to continue their work and prioritize their fight against trafficking in human beings in order to prevent the crime, prosecute and punish their perpetrators and protect and support the victims, in particular women and children”.

“The engagement of all layers and actors in society in this fight is needed, too”, Barrios Prieto continued, recalling that “in this regard, the Catholic Church adopted in 2018 its Pastoral Orientation on Human Trafficking, which draw also from the longstanding practical experience of many international Catholic NGOs working in the field”.

“Engagement in structured collaborations with public institutions and civil society organizations will guarantee more effective and longer-lasting results” in the fight against trafficking and slavery, the EU Bishops’ official concluded.

COVID-19 transforming trafficking into an “ever-growing internet business”: Vatican OSCE representative

Also this week, the Holy See’s Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Monsignor Janusz Urbańczyk, stressed the importance of joint efforts to respond to the crime of trafficking, a scourge that affects some 40 million victims worldwide.

“Trafficking in persons and other contemporary forms of enslavement are a worldwide problem that needs to be taken seriously by humanity as a whole”, Urbańczyk highlighted during a meeting on human trafficking of the OSCE Permanent Council which was held October 15.

The Vatican diplomat pointed out that of the more than 40 million victims of trafficking or exploitation in the world, 10 million are younger than 18 years old and 1 out of 20 are children under eight years old who are victims of sexual exploitation.

Urbańczyk commended the OSCE’s efforts in the fight against trafficking and exploitation, and expressed appreciation in particular for the organization’s 4P approach: Prosecution, Protection, Prevention and Partnerships.

Poor prosecution rates

One failure of the international community that Urbańczyk noted with concern is the poor prosecution rate of human traffickers.

He added that the decline in the number of prosecutions “adds insult to injury”, as only a few of the victims see their traffickers prosecuted by criminal justice.

Organ trafficking

Another area of concern, Urbańczyk said, is the trafficking of human beings for the organ trade. This crime, he noted, apart from being underestimated, is widespread – even in the OSCE area.

To combat this, there is a “need for… agreed, concrete procedures for alerting professionals, appropriate authorities and agencies to organ trafficking”, he said.

“Health professionals and authorities can no longer turn a blind eye to the need to regulate travel for transplantation and to prevent and combat transplant-related crimes”, he added.

The need for better social and legal protection

Urbańczyk remarked that through policies, educational campaigns and programs, significant progress has been made in identifying and addressing factors that make people susceptible to trafficking. He therefore encouraged joint efforts in the fight against trafficking, “starting by addressing what drives it”.

However, the Holy See official noted that armed conflicts and forced migration have worsened some of the social, economic, cultural and political factors that make people vulnerable to trafficking. Further compounding the situation is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which, due to its restrictions, has transformed human trafficking into an “ever-growing internet business”.

In light of all of this, Urbańczyk proposed that priority be given to ensuring “access to social protection, to education, to jobs, to health care and to the justice system”, because the lack of these is often exploited by traffickers to recruit new victims.

Likewise, for survivors’ rehabilitation and reintegration, he said “they need access to physical and mental health services, education, training programs and employment opportunities” so that they can have “a new start and legal protection from those who would compel them back into slavery”.

Victims: human beings with faces and stories

In all the efforts against human trafficking, Urbańczyk stressed the importance of keeping in mind that “victims and survivors are human beings” and they should “always feel that they are being treated with dignity and respect”.

“It is easy in discussions to present numbers”, he noted. “However, we must keep in mind that every number has a face, a name and a story to tell”.

Reiterating Pope Francis’s words in the Encyclical letter Fratelli tutti, MsgrUrbańczyk said that human trafficking represents a “shame for humanity” which international politics “must no longer tolerate”.

(With reporting by Vatican News)

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

Vatican official: Sexual exploitation of women and children “a shocking offence against human dignity”

Holy See denounces plight of world’s 40 million victims of trafficking or exploitation, 10 million of whom are children

Pope decries “utilitarian perspective that views people according to the criteria of convenience and personal gain”

Pope pleads: “Much remains to be done” to end human trafficking, “an open wound on the body of society”

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