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The Church and the fight against human trafficking

Human-TraffickingHuman Trafficking has become a worldwide problem in recent years and has without doubt, come to be the world’s fastest growing global crime by which people are enslaved and one of the largest sources of income for organised crime.

Every year, the sanctity and growth of the human race is threatened by traffickers who buy and sell millions of women, men and children to enslave and exploit in numerous ways.

Also referred to as Modern Slavery, it is estimated that approximately 35.8 million people in the world today are made to engage non-consensually in activities such as commercial sex, forced labour, street crime, domestic servitude and even the sale of organs and human sacrifice.

Condemned as a human rights violation, human trafficking in its many forms affects people of all sexual orientations irrespective of age, race, ethnicity and religion; even though, there are a number of situations that can make a person more vulnerable to trafficking.

Poverty, family financial obligations, lack of access to education, unemployment, gender discrimination and political instability are but a few of the main contributing factors that may place men, women and children in vulnerable positions to be trafficked.

In a global marketplace where the profits are high and the risks are low, traffickers recruit, transport, transfer and harbour victims in their own countries or abroad through coercion, fraud or deception by making promises like the provision of quality education, a stress-free luxurious life, a new start and numerous future choices.

The 2014 Global Slavery Index Report revealed that 15.7% of 35.8 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, representing over 5.5 million people are victims of trafficking. As a result of limited economic opportunities, food and water shortages, on-going conflicts and endemic corruption, people living in parts of this Region are particularly vulnerable to modern slavery.

Ghana for instance, has been identified as a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report released by the US State Department last year, Ghanaian boys and girls are subjected to forced labour within the country in fishing, domestic service, street hawking, begging, portering, artisanal gold mining, quarrying, herding, and agriculture. Ghanaian girls, and to a lesser extent boys, are subjected to prostitution within Ghana.

Although data collection on Human Trafficking is not comprehensive and statistics not reliable in Ghana, it is believed that, there is an increase in the number of victims being trafficked overseas from Ghana for sexual exploitation and forced labour.

It was reported that Ghanaian women and children are recruited and sent to West Africa, the Middle East, and Europe for forced labour and sex trafficking. There was an increase in the number of young Ghanaian women recruited with the promise of domestic or hospitality industry jobs in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. After their return many of them reported being deceived, overworked, starved, abused, molested, and/or forced into prostitution. Ghanaian men were also recruited under false pretences to the Middle East and subjected to forced labour in the domestic sector and forced prostitution.

The report further mentioned that women and girls voluntarily migrating from Vietnam, China, and neighbouring West African countries are subjected to sex trafficking in Ghana. Citizens from West African countries are engaged in forced labour in Ghana in agriculture or domestic service. Ghana is a transit point for West Africans subjected to sex trafficking in Europe, especially Italy and Germany.

Africa Regional Consultation on Modern Day Slavery/Human Trafficking

To strengthen the capacity of churches and inspire spiritual and practical action for an effective response to Human Trafficking across Africa, the Salvation Army, the Anglican Alliance and the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa convened a five-day regional consultation last week on Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking in Cape Town, South Africa, which was hosted by Hope Africa of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

Thirty participants, drawn from Anglican Churches and the Salvation Army in Africa as well as representatives from Challenging Heights Ghana, Caritas, the South African Government, the African Union and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reflected, debated and discussed the role of faith based organisations in ending Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking.

The Consultation created space for presentations on the extent of human trafficking as well as regional and global statistics on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking with a deliberate focus on trafficking for labour both on land and at sea, trafficking for sexual exploitation, child trafficking, trafficking for organs and trafficking in situations of civil conflict.

The Consultation also addressed strategies to use community assets, map trends and collate resources, advocacy, media and communications to enhance the work of Churches in combating human trafficking, while also seeking for best practises in working with survivor movements and identifying and addressing root causes.

Although participants at the Consultation recognised the initiatives made by world faith leaders including Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who for the first time in history pledged to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked; it was also acknowledged that much more needed to be done by the Church in the various sectors of society on prevention and protection in all areas.

The Role of the Church

Approximately 71.2 percent of Ghanaians profess a Christian faith, which makes churches a significant and powerful force that could impact on the fight against Human Trafficking/Modern Slavery and also influence the government.

Current anti-trafficking efforts across the world are insufficient in dealing with the challenge of Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking. That is why religious leaders have a vital role to play in combating this menace by urging their followers to work to find ways to end Human Trafficking.

It is important for churches to articulate theology on human trafficking and modern slavery, have policies on anti-human trafficking to be shared with all members and create effective structures to offer professional legal advice for at-risk, victims and survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery.

Church leaders must be equipped with biblical teachings and interpretations, with awareness of how best to support survivors and with the necessary information for them to do appropriate referrals and counselling.

Churches need to include the issues of anti-Human Trafficking on their agenda in a significant way at local, national, regional and global levels as well as create and implement awareness raising programmes through education and training on modern slavery and human trafficking.

It is also very essential for churches to create partnerships and collaborations that would lead to strategic networking among themselves and include other churches, faith groups and NGOs to join the campaign and share resources to strengthen individual efforts.

By educating themselves to understand the policy and legislative frameworks that seeks to combat trafficking, prosecute perpetrators, protect and reintegrate survivors in Ghana and other countries, religious leaders would build their capacity to advocate for the government to allocate more resources to combat Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery and also develop expertise to identify gaps in policy and legislation which needs to be addressed.

The responsibility of the church cannot be overemphasised in the creation of safe spaces for victims to seek assistance and the provision of practical support for those in danger and survivors in terms of security, accommodation, acceptance and confidentiality, counselling, guidance, follow-up and prayers as well as economic assistance.

In partnership with civil societies and NGOs, churches can push for stiffer laws and penalties for perpetrators, proper reintegration of survivors and their involvement in the drafting of policies or issues of anti-human trafficking.

Church leaders need to promote the concept of the church as a sanctuary devoid of discrimination and judgement for survivors by resourcing and equipping their institutions to provide holistic and culturally appropriate support for those in danger and survivors.

Survivors need help to find healing. A key part of healing is enabling survivors to accept the love of God and to forgive themselves as well as the perpetrator. The Church should be a house of healing and peace where there is no fear of judgement and discrimination. It is also called to be the voice of the voiceless.

By Lucy Pomaa Arthur

The writer is the Communications Manager for Challenging Heights

Email: [email protected]

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