About 15 years ago a dear friend in Hungary — whom I met there in 1984 and with whom I communicate regularly — mentioned that his very attractive teen-age daughter Emma (real name) was eager to come to the United States. He wondered if I could help to get her a job here. I replied that I could not, but warned that she must be careful to follow all government regulations. Like most religious women, I was very aware of the dangers of trafficking. My friend assumed that my warning was simply stating facts, because soon he wrote, delighted, that Emma had been offered a job in the US, and those inviting her would attend to all the paperwork.
Very alarmed, I rushed him a reply alerting him to the dangers she was most certainly facing. I urged him to forbid her this “opportunity” regardless of her reaction. Fortunately he did so, offering her the possibility of more education. I cringe when I think what might have become of her….
Throughout the world today, traffickers use deception, force, threats, and coercion to compel children, teens, and adults into slavery for purposes such as domestic, farm, fishery, and industrial labor; military service; and sexual exploitation. This abhorrent system is the second most profitable worldwide criminal enterprise, estimated to affect between 21 and 40 million — million! — current victims worldwide! According to UN agencies, children constitute nearly 1/3 of the victims. There are more slaves today than at any time in human history! The internet provides traffickers easy home access to potential victims.
And victims are everywhere. Caused by lack of information, neglect, or desperation, vulnerable humans of all ages, races, sexes, and nationality are trapped in this grotesque system. Flattery and offers of fame, food, money, jobs, and security can be tempting. Sadly, unprotected refugees are easy targets.
The magnitude of the problem can be overwhelming to the point of paralysis. Put in the correct context of the unity of all creation since its beginning billions of years ago, this self-inflicted cancer and affront to our global unity — to ourselves — is baffling. Greed blinds some to our intrinsic unity. No one person can single-handedly save everyone, but I believe my experience proves that the “little” actions of many will make the difference as we contribute to the evolution of a planet that makes trafficking obsolete.
Here are some suggestions:
. Focus on one person at a time, remember how closely we are bound to each brother and sister. For example, pray for one victim enslaved near you. (February 8 is the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, a good day to join with others to pray for those affected by the crimes of modern slavery and the people that volunteer and work to eradicate this crime.)
. Never underestimate the power of awareness. I helped Emma simply by being alert to danger.
. Talk to children, young people, and adults about safety measures such as memorizing important addresses and phone numbers.
. Learn the signs of human trafficking so that you can recognize and report it. (US Homeland Security.)
. Many countries have hotlines that can be saved and used to report suspected trafficking. Learn yours and save it. (The US National Human Trafficking Resources Hotline is 888-373-7888.)
. Make a donation to an organization fighting human trafficking such as Polaris (polarisproject.org), the organization named for the North Star that enslaved people in the United States used as a guide to navigate their way toward freedom.
. Contact your local, state, and national elected officials and ask what actions they have taken to stop this humanitarian crisis..
. Check with hotel, motel, trucking, and event organizers to be sure they have procedures in place to prevent trafficking. Ask to see a copy of the procedures.
. Purchase Fair Trade products. Buying these products helps prevent trafficking.
And Emma? She accepted her dad’s offer to get more education. She is now happily married, living in France.
Some readers received this message when I first posted this blog: Moments ago I learned that one of my Nigerian SHCJ sisters, Chizoba Onuora, was kidnapped on Saturday, January 26th, aboard public transport at Abaji, Nigeria. Please pray fervently for her safety and quick release. I shall post updates about her on this blog as I receive them.
I rejoice to add this wonderful news on Sunday afternoon: The [SHCJ headquarters in Rome] has just received word from the sisters in Abuja [Nigeria] that Sr. Chizoba Onuora has been released. Deo Gratias! Continued prayers for Sr. Chizoba and all the African sisters.