Vatican releases online guide to combat $150 billion human trafficking industry

By Courtney Grogan

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Man bound hand and foot, vicitim of human trafficking. Credit: Shutterstock

The Vatican said yesterday that the most significant cost associated with human trafficking is the exploitation and degradation of its victims.


With a new online guide, the Vatican seeks to combat the “ugly business” of human trafficking, which is estimated to generate $150 billion dollars a year, by examining the different levels of its complex international supply chains to target this grave evil at its roots.


“Approved by the Holy Father, this handbook reflects current Catholic teaching and courageous ministry, especially the ministry of the sisters on the front lines,” Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Vatican’s Migrants and Refugees Section, said on the guide’s release January 17.


“These pastoral options offer a reading, a comprehension, ‘Why does the depravity of human trafficking persist in the 21st century?” he continued. “How does the ugly, evil, business -- and we underline the word business -- operate?”


The guide is the result of the Vatican Migrants and Refugee Section’s consultation with researchers and practitioners working in the field to address human trafficking and enslavement, and “the Church’s full response was considered, in terms of strengths, weaknesses, pastoral action and policy options,” according to Czerny.


The handbook -- named “Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking” -- is broken down into ten sections, each analyzing human trafficking from a different angle and providing recommendations.


These recommendations range from targeting and prosecuting consumers of human trafficking to aiding in the full spiritual and psychological recovery of its victims.


The Vatican will host a conference focused on the implementation of these guidelines in early April.


Targeting Demand


More attention needs to be placed on those consumers who drive the demand for human trafficking, in addition to the traffickers themselves who supply it, according to the Vatican office.

“People who generate the demand share real responsibility for the destructive impact of their behaviour on other human persons, and for the moral values violated in the process,” the guide states, noting that “the buying of so-called sexual services, in all forms including pornography, internet based cyber-sex, strip clubs and erotic dancing venues, is a serious offence against human dignity and human integrity.”


The guide goes on to recommend that states consider “criminalizing those who take advantage of prostitution or of other uses of sexual exploitation provided by those who have been trafficked.”

Last year, Pope Francis expressed a similar sentiment in his World Day of Prayer address, “If there are so many young women victims of trafficking who end up on the streets of our cities, it is because many men here — young, middle-aged, elderly — demand these services and are willing to pay for their pleasure. I wonder then, is the principal cause of trafficking really the traffickers? I believe the principal cause is the unscrupulous selfishness of the many hypocrites in our world. Of course, arresting traffickers is an obligation of justice. But the true solution is the conversion of hearts, cutting off demand in order to dry out the market.”


Ethical Supply Chains


The Vatican is calling for an ethical assessment of both business models and consumption, particularly in the industries such as agriculture, fishing, construction and mining where human trafficking is deeply embedded.

“The Church encourages both sides of the commercial relationship – entrepreneurs who provide and end-users who consume – to engage in this ethical reflection and then to make the changes that are called for,” the guide states.


“Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act,” Benedict XVI wrote in Caritas in Veritate in 2009. “Hence the consumer has a specific social responsibility, which goes hand-in-hand with the social responsibility of the enterprise.”


On a broader level, the Vatican office recommends that countries implement legislation that requires “all companies, particularly those working transnationally and outsourcing in developing countries, to invest in the transparency and accountability of their supply chains.”


Adding that there needs to be special and intense prosecution of organized crime engaged in people smuggling and trafficking nationally and transnationally, along with prosecution of connivance by local and national authorities.”


Ways of Hope


Along with the guidebook, a compilation of all of Pope Francis’ teachings on migrants, refugees, and human trafficking entitled “Lights on the Ways of Hope” was also released in hardcover and online in English and other languages. The searchable digital version will continue to be updated as the pope comments on human trafficking in the future.


“I hope that this collection of teachings may indeed illuminate our steps on the pathways of hope, providing food for inspiration and prayer, preaching and pastoral action,” Pope Francis wrote in the introduction to the book released Jan. 17.

The pope reflected on examples of migration and enslavement throughout the history of salvation, from the betrayal and sale of young Joseph by his brothers to Abraham and Sarah’s departure from their homeland in response to God’s promise.

“Indeed, like human history, the history of salvation has been marked by displacements of every sort – migration, exile, flight, exodus – and yet all reaching out with hope for a better future elsewhere. And even when the displacement is a criminal enterprise, as in the case of trafficking, let no one be robbed of the hope of being rescued and set free,” Francis said.

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