Human Trafficking


The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines trafficking in Persons as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation”.  The exploitation ranges from sexual, forced labour and slavery, to harvesting of organs.

We deduce three identifiable elements involved in this crime:

  1. The Act – what is done
  2. The Means – how it is done
  3. The purpose – why it is done

It is estimated that human trafficking generates many billions of dollars yearly, second only to drug trafficking in illegal money.  Through legislations, prosecutions and advocacy initiatives, governments, multilateral agencies and civil society, respectively, are actively engaged at various levels to combat this heinous crime. Highlighted below are some important aspects of this subject that is fiercely condemned by the Pope; vigorously debated in parliaments, but whose main victims are peasants.

The call of the Psalmist couldn’t be timelier: “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.  Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4).


Scriptures: Stories and sayings

  • The Story of Joseph sold by his brothers (Genesis 37:12-36)
  • “Whoever kidnaps a person, whether that person has been sold or still held in possession, shall be put to death” (Exodus 21: 16)
  • “If someone is caught kidnapping another Israelite, enslaving or selling the Israelite, then that kidnapper shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 24: 7)
  • Read Psalm 10 (Prayer for Deliverance from Enemies)
  • “No more mockery of Justice. Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:2-4)
  • “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9)
  • “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12)


What People say…

  • “Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity” – Pope Francis
  • “What we do see is that the trafficking of children is becoming an income revenue stream for organised crime, for gangs. So where they would typically be selling guns and drugs, they’re now turning to the selling of children” - Dalia Racine
  • “People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.” – Unknown
  • “Person not possession; child not commodity” – Anonymous
  • “If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.” – William Wilberforce
  • “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” – Albert Einstein
  • “Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.” – Albert Schweitzer
  • “Slavery is a weed that grows on every soil.” – Edmund Burke


Two Slave-Saints:

a) St. Bakhita

"Mary protected me even before I knew her!" St Josephine Margaret Bakhita

  • Born: 1869 in Olgossa, Darfur, Sudan
  • Kidnapped: age 9
  • Sold to Italy: 1883
  • Religious: 1893
  • Died: 8 February 1947
  • Beatified: 17 May 1992
  • Canonised: 1 October 2000

St. Josephine Margaret Bakhita, 1869-1947, was born in Darfur, Sudan. Kidnapped at the age of 9, she was resold many times until she was bought in 1883 by the Italian Consul, Callisto Legnani, who took her with his family back to Italy.Working as a nanny, she encountered the Canossian Sisters, and gaining her freedom as an adult, entered the order as a novitiate in 1893, taking vows in 1896.

In 1902,she was assigned to their house in Schio, Northern Italy. Mostly working as the doorkeeper, she was known as “Madre Moretta"  by the local community, in respect for her gentleness, calmness, smile, and holiness. The publication of St. Josephine’s memoirs brought her fame in 1930; and she was beatified in 1992, then canonised in 2000 by St. John Paul II. Patron Saint of Sudan, St. Josephine is venerated as a modern African saint, in particular for slaves and the oppressed.


b) St Patrick

  • Taken to Ireland as a slave at age 16
  • Escaped after 6 years
  • Studied in France at the monastery of St Martin's in Tours
  • Became a Catholic priest, and later a Bishop
  • Returned to Ireland as a missionary
  • Played a major part in converting the Irish to Christianity
  • Some of his writings survive, the Confessio and the Letter to Coroticus
  • Patron Saint of Ireland/ second Patron Saint of Nigeria

Violation of Human Rights & Dignity

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948),
  • “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” Human Rights, article 1.
  • Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person, Human Rights, article 3.
  • “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”, Human Rights, article 4
  • “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, Human Rights, article 5
  • Pacem in Terris, 11, 25

Combating the crime: Protocols

  • The Palermo (Italy) Protocol, December, 2000, UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. Also three supplementary protocols:
  1. The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children;
  2. The Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air; and
  3. The Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition.


Combating the crime: Up Against

  • Fragmented, small-scale, and uncoordinated efforts, limited by funding
  • Modern slavery is linked to global trends—migration, security, and organized crime
  • Limited or reactive private sector engagement
  • Limited impact assessments or actionable data, and measurement is costly and slow

Santa Marta Group (SMG)

SMG is an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops from around the world working together with civil society in a process endorsed by Pope Francis, to eradicate human trafficking and modern day slavery.  Formed in 2014, the group was developed by the Catholic Bishops' Conference for England and Wales (CBCEW) and is named after the building where Francis lives in the Vatican.

SMG Approach

  • The Santa Marta Group works by bringing together decision-makers so that they can share experiences, learn from each other and find solutions to the grave criminal challenge posed by human trafficking.
  • SMG is thus a method and a meeting place for finding creative shared responses to criminality and the ills it causes.
  • SMG does not try to impose a single solution to a complex and transnational issue but rather brings together the skills, wisdom and experience of its members who work in very different national contexts.
  • The SMG helps share that learning and experience to create partnerships and coalitions to tackle slavery and trafficking and by that makes a difference.

 SMG Objectives

  • Raise awareness about the nature and scale of slavery;
  • Develop trusting relationships amongst law enforcement agencies, the Church and civil society across the world;
  • Animate those relationships so that they result in practical collaboration, improved public policy, legislation, law enforcement and pastoral care for victims;
  • Help put the care of victims at the centre of law enforcement approaches to trafficking;

Share experiences, best practice, and skills amongst SMG members to improve prevention of trafficking, pastoral care for victims, including empowering their reintegration in society and the prosecution of criminals

 SMG Methodology

  • Conferences
  • Counselling/ Pastoral care
  • Awareness-raising
  • Law enforcement/ prosecution
  • Public policy improvement
  • Coalition with int’l agencies

Identification of roles…

  • Government bodies to prevent, legislate, implement, protect and prosecute violations
  • Non-governmental organizations to provide support to victims, advocate for their rights and contribute to the existing knowledge base
  • International organizations such as United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to research, build capacity of governments to address human trafficking and provide a platform for global dialogue
  • The private sector that can create job opportunities for survivors of trafficking and also promote and enforce ethical labour practices
  • Human rights advocates to help prevent violations and stand up for victims’ rights
  • Academic and research institutions to analyse trends and provide recommendations to policymakers;
  • And the media: Awareness, Prevention, Knowledge, Hope

 What the Church Teaches

  • Dignity of the human person as an image of God: “the whole of the Church’s social doctrine…develops from the principle the inviolable dignity of the human person”, Compendium, 153
  • Right to life “is the condition for the exercise of all other rights” Compendium, 155
  • “Churches must become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference” – Pope Francis message of Lent 2015
  • “Action on behalf of Justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation” – World Synod of Bishops, Justicia in Mundo, 1971, #6.
  • “No more mockery of Justice. Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:2-4)
  • “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9
  • Always treat other as you would like them to treat you, Matthew 7:12

A prayer

We turn to you dear Lord in thanksgiving for the gift of a New Day and the opportunities it presents. In your merciful love forgive our past failings. Open our minds and hearts to the possibilities that lie ahead and strengthen our wills to embrace them to improve the human condition. Grant us a new vision of life and love, to move from our small selves to a deeper sense of community, solidarity and friendship. Renew in us the grace of true discipleship and make us instruments of your peace in our troubled world. And through your unfailing grace, help us to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly in your presence, now and forever, Amen!


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