Australian Catholics Join Pope's Call for Global Action Against Human Trafficking

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
28 Jan 2015

Pope Francis calls on the world to eliminate human trafficking and slavery

Australia's Catholic bishops and religious have given their resolute support to Pope Francis' call for global action against human trafficking and slavery. They have also backed the Holy Father's declaration of Sunday, 8 February as World Day of Prayer, Reflection and Action against Human Suffering.

The date chosen by the Pontiff to mobilise people of all religions and cultures to unite to fight modern slavery and human trafficking  is the Feast Day of St Josephine Bakhita who was kidnapped by Arab marauders in her homeland of Sudan and sold into slavery. Sold and resold from the time she was 9 years old, she was finally rescued by the Italian consul in Khartoum who took her back to Italy where she became a Canoissan nun.

For the next 42 years  St Bakhita who was so traumatised by her early years she could not remember her name and called herself "Bakhita" which means "lucky" in Arabic," gave herself selflessly to help the poor and vulnerable in Northern Italy.

St Josephine Bakhita who was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child

She died in 1947 and in 2000 was canonised the then Pope John Paul II to become Sudan's first saint.

"The life of St Josephine Bakhita reminds us of the assault to the dignity and of the suffering endured by every trafficked person," says Sister Anne Tormey RSM, President of the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH).

In partnership with the ACBC (the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference), Australia's religious are committed to eradicating "the terrible scourge of modern slavery in all its forms," and will mark 8 February not only by prayer and reflection but by increasing public awareness of the true extent of human trafficking in the modern world, and of the millions of women, children and men who continue to be sold into slavery.

"Despite many efforts to end human trafficking internationally, an estimated 27 million are being deprived of their freedom and forced to suffer conditions of exploitation and slavery," says Bishop Eugene Hurley, Chair of the ACBC's Commission for Pastoral Life and insists that it is imperative we begin a journey of personal change when we mark 8 February in just over 10 days time.

Bishop of Darwin the Most Rev Eugene Hurley, Chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops Pastoral Commission

But these figures may well be conservative and the real numbers of those living as slaves, trafficked into brothels, forced into manual labour, victims of debt bondage or born into servitude could well be far higher.

According to advocates and contrary to popular belief, trafficking and modern day slavery is not limited to nations far from our shores. Far from being a rarity, men and women are being trafficked into Australia and forced into prostitution or to work in underground sweat shops.

With no human rights, they are frequently housed in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions, forced to work without pay or for wages well under the minimum wage in underground sweat shops or in agriculture, construction and hospitality sectors.

"Human trafficking exists in Australia and on this planet because we allow it to exist," Bishop Hurley says and calls on all Australians of all cultures and religions to come together and commit to eradicating "this affront to our humanity."

Bangladesh factories are notoriously unsafe and exploit workers to provide the West with cheap goods

On the World Day of Peace which was celebrated on 1 January this year, Pope Francis used his first Mass of the New Year to condemn slavery and human trafficking.

"All of us are called by God to be free, all are called to be sons and daughters, and each, according to his or her own responsibilities, is called to combat modern forms of enslavement. From every people, culture and religion, let us join forces," the Pontiff said.

Pope Francis' clear message on World Peace Day was "No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters." He also appealed to consumers to shun low-cost goods that may be the products of forced labour or other forms of exploitation.

"Let us ask ourselves as individuals and as communities, whether we feel challenged when in our daily lives, we meet or deal with persons who could be victims of human trafficking, or when we are tempted to select items, which may well have been produced by exploiting others," he said.

Myanmar's ethnic minority of Rohingya Muslims are modern day victims of trafficking and slavery

The Papal message was followed last week by the Vatican Secretary of State's invitation to each Episcopal Conference worldwide to join the observance on 8 February and to contribute to "sensitising public opinion to this tragic phenomenon which represents the saddest wounds of our time."

On 8 February Pope Francis also asks us to think of people trafficked into prostitution, as well as women forced into marriage without any right to give or withhold their consent.

During their prayers and reflections on 8 February,  the ACBC and ACRATH would also like Australians to remember people whose labour is exploited to enable us to buy cheap goods. They also ask us to remember the young boys of West Africa who are trafficked into the cocoa production for Australian chocolate.

More than 2.2 million children sold into slavery each year

We should remember the refugees in Thailand who are trafficked onto fishing vessels to produce cheap fish for Australians to eat, Sr Anne says, as well as the women in Bangladesh factories whose exploited labour and unsafe working conditions result in cheap clothing for Australians to wear.

The day will be a time to reflect on the 200-plus female students kidnapped in Nigeria in April last year by Islamic extremist group Boko Haram and sold or forced into marriage, and the men, women and children taken into slavery or forced marriage by the Islamic State in war torn Syria and Northern Iraq.

"The ACBC and ACRATH support the statement published by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences in November 2013 which declared that it was our 'moral imperative to make ours the last generation that has to fight the trade in human lives," Bishop Hurley says.

In addition the ACBC and ACRATH are calling for a four-fold commitment to prevention, victim protection, the legal prosecution of perpetrators and partnership for change.

For the Pope's complete message "No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters" click here

Captured by Boko Haram more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were forced into slavery or forced into marriage