By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
The 21st Conference of the Alliance against Trafficking in Persons, organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), took place from 14 – 16 June. It was conducted primarily online, with limited in-person participation for delegations from Vienna due to Covid-19 pandemic-related restrictions.
The virtual meeting put a spotlight on addressing the factors that increase the demand that fuels trafficking for the purposes of labour and sexual exploitation. It also explored the fundamental causes of trafficking, its effects on society, and possible means of putting an end to it.
The permanent representative of the Holy See to the OSCE, Monsignor Janusz Urbańczyk, spoke at four panels during the conference.
Tackling the demand
On Monday, Msgr. Urbańczyk analyzed demand as the fundamental, deep-rooted cause of trafficking, identifying two factors that further contribute to demand: poverty and an economic system concerned only about maximizing profit to serve the greed of a few rather than all of humanity.
He went on to applaud global efforts to combat the scourge of trafficking in persons, which have led around 96 percent of States to adopt legislation against trafficking; and have established specific training for the police, initiated awareness-raising campaigns, and worked in collaboration with NGOs. However, he lamented the continuous increase in trafficking, particularly during the current pandemic.
He stressed that “an economy without human trafficking is an economy with market rules that promote justice and not exclusive special interests.”
Trafficking, violations of rights and employment
Speaking at the second panel on Tuesday, the Monsignor highlighted that the pandemic has affected the working world, its habits and institutions, and in particular, the most fragile and least protected. In fact, he explained, “the risk of rights being violated has increased, and the factors that cause vulnerable situations for a person, in a family or social context have been multiplied” and the situation is fuelling trafficking in persons.
“Driven by desperation, many have sought other forms of income and risk being exploited through illegal or forced labor, prostitution and various criminal activities, including human trafficking,” he lamented.
In the face of this, Monsignor Urbańczyk underlined that the Church and solidarity organizations have given support to many victims of trafficking who have found themselves unable to return to their own countries due to a lack of documents or travel bans imposed on them.
He further insisted that “it is only by committing ourselves to promote policies capable of guaranteeing work for everyone, while respecting their human rights, that persons can see valued their dignity and social recognition.”
Combatting sexual exploitation
At the third panel, Msgr. Urbańczyk drew attention to the connection between trafficking in persons and international drug trafficking, inviting the participants at the conference to examine how these two are interconnected, fed, and substantiated while being managed with a “ruthless criminality.”
He said sexual exploitation is “the manifestation of a generalised culture, more precise the lack of culture, that degrades the body of others, mostly women and more and more children, to an object which can be used, denying human dignity to those who are considered inferior.” It also facilitates a language that “humiliates people, confuses situations, minimises the problem, and raises a demand that feeds an economic-criminal chain in which the trafficking of people for sexual exploitation is also grafted.”
To combat this, the Monsignor recommends the promotion of a culture of respect and dignity, constant awareness-raising and training, as well as implementing stringent legislation to repress sexual exploitation and promote protection tools for victims. This could include, he proposes, paying attention to the control of monetary transactions and taking steps to ensure that the internet and social media will “promote the dignity of the human person and not become a medium that fuels the violation of human rights.”
On this note, he pointed out the work that the Church is already doing to protect victims of sexual exploitation and appealed to civil society and institutions to continue to join efforts to make the fight against the demand that fuels human trafficking more effective.
Need for courage and resolve
On the final day, Msgr Urbańczyk focused his intervention on the urgent need to initiate processes capable of providing adequate and inclusive responses to the root causes of trafficking in human beings.
He insisted that “courage is needed and willingness to change the flaws in our economic system” to renew “regulations and instruments capable of having a wider vision and strength in investing more than ever in people rather than profits, in limiting the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few, in duplicating multi- and bilateral cooperation that limits violence and conflict.”
Re-echoing the words of Pope Francis, the monsignor concluded by underlining human trafficking proliferates in times of crises; therefore, he said, “we need to strengthen an economy that may respond to the crisis in a way that is not short-sighted, in a lasting way, in a solid way.”