August: Human Trafficking

August: Human Trafficking

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches in February this year stressed the need for WCC member churches (including the Uniting Church in Australia) to closely work with civil society and call on States to combat human trafficking — especially of women and children for sexual exploitation.

Human trafficking is not an isolated issue and not limited to the sex trade. It is the consequence of poverty and discrimination against the powerless. The strong prey on the weak. Usually, people from poor countries are being submitted to modern forms of slavery in rich countries.

It is part of the violence of a global economic system that dehumanises people while maximising profit. Modern bondage generates an estimated $42.5 billion annually worldwide.

The United Nations has defined human trafficking as “a crime against humanity” that involves “an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them.”

Common forms of human trafficking include: forced labour, sex trafficking, bonded labour, debt bondage among migrant workers, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labour and child soldiery.

The US State Department on June 27 released its annual report on human trafficking, spotlighting the global trade in enforced labour and the selling or prostitution of people — as many as 27 million, mostly women and children — without their consent or benefit.

Australia, the report says, is primarily a destination country for women subjected to forced prostitution and, to a lesser extent, women and men in forced labour and children in sex trafficking.

The women and girls are sometimes held in captivity, subjected to physical and sexual violence and intimidation, manipulated through illegal drugs and obliged to pay off unexpected or inflated debts to their traffickers.

The government convicts few offenders of labour trafficking. Last year there were only three prosecutions of slavery outside the sex industry.

The State Department Report says, “Many front-line agencies, including state and territory police, and in some jurisdictions, labour inspectors and unions, do not have adequate awareness of the relevance of the federal anti-trafficking response to their daily work.”

Some observers believe that the Australian government’s engagement with governments in the region seemed to emphasise people smuggling at the expense of trafficking in persons. “At times, this impression was deleterious to efforts to improve anti-trafficking responses in the region.”

Nongovernmental organisations and nonprofits are now enlisting the aid of international, national and local religious groups in the fight against human trafficking. They are bringing the issue and its victims into their congregations and exploring sacred texts for direction and solutions.

Meanwhile the WCC Central Committee reaffirms the importance of fostering a culture of prayer, worship, encounter and hospitality that will deepen and enrich the inclusive call to Christian community.

Stephen Webb

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