Human Trafficking -21st Century Slaves-the silent epidemic -Our Story-our Challenge


The Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers and Sisters) are celebrating their 125th Anniversary.

By Maggi Kennedy MSOLA

Your Eminencies, My Lords, Reverend Fathers, Religious Sisters and Brothers all the members of the Lavigerie family represented here today and all those in Africa and the rest of our globalised world who we serve as the sons and daughters of Cardinal Lavigerie and Mother Marie Salome, good evening.  Today marks a momentous moment in our history as a Church. 125 years ago Cardinal Charles Martial Lavigerie, Archbishop of Algiers – at the request of Pope Leo XIII – began the Catholic Church’s involvement in the movement for the abolition of the Slave Trade, together with other pioneers like William Wilberforce, with their focus on Africa.On December 23rd, 1888, Lavigerie said:
“Slavery, as it is practiced in Africa, is not only, indeed, contrary to the Gospel, it is contrary to natural law…it involves all humanity. That is why I am appealing to everyone, without distinction of nationality, party or religious creed. I do not address myself simply to faith, but to reason, to justice, to respect, to love of liberty”.  That same evening he spoke to the hearts of his Congregation then as he does today. His challenge from the past is not new…..for today…..
But he went even further…..

“I am a man, and nothing human is foreign to me. I am a man, and injustice towards others revolts my heart. I am a man, and oppression offends my nature…. I want to restore to the sons and daughters of this unhappy race, family, honour and freedom”

Such a great desire…….
« I am a man and nothing human is foreign to me. » became the Cardinal’s motto as he raised awareness in many European cities as to the various kinds of slavery…which was and is a crime against humanity.

Near to his own death he sadly said “Few people, too few people have the ultimate vocation: humanity”. This is our challenge today with the Cardinal’s spirit in our blood we are called to follow him. Who will speak if we don’t…as a Church today?

Trafficking in persons…..Human trafficking, the New Slavery…Are these just jargon words! The Old Slavery was banned in France 1794 and was re-introduced and banned a second time. In the UK it was banned in 1807. Slavery was banned worldwide 1926. In Mauritania in North Africa it was finally banned in 1981. In many countries it continues to grow in ever new forms.

Does Human Trafficking really exist
Yes, but it takes many different forms. It touches families like yours and mine, ordinary people and families who are drawn into a deep dark pit of hopelessness, often through poverty, money, greed and sometimes adventure and power.

I became involved in this struggle in 2010 on my return to Kenya. An Assumption Sister of Nairobi shared with me how her two nieces applied for jobs have seen an advert in the newspaper. It offered a good salary and many perks. They called the agency. They were asked to go for an interview.  They were very excited and prepared themselves. They left the house happy together, with their parents as excited as they were….They left….never to be seen again alive…
Where are they now? We cannot image the trauma for their families not knowing where they are and what has happened to them…no funeral…no laying to rest, no grieving. What of the other families???? This could be you or me or members of our families or friends.

Human Trafficking is the world’s best money earner after drugs and small arms. It is estimated by US Government’s yearly report TIP that in 2011 32 billion US Dollars was made out of the innocent blood of 800,000 human persons who were trafficked within or across international boundaries half of whom were children  It is estimated that 12.3 million adults and children are currently held in modern day slavery which includes forced labour and prostitution. There are many more who are trafficked within there own national boundaries for forced labour, bonded labour, sexual servitude and involuntary servitude. It seems almost impossible to curb this epidemic. The appalling treatment and living conditions are unimaginable.. Driven by poverty it touches all levels of society manifests the insatiable greed of unscrupulous people. It may never be stopped completely. But that is no reason to do nothing.

How are we involved?
Human trafficking contaminates us all and is in need of a radical conversion. Fides states, “400 million children around the world live in conditions of slavery”. Many children together with young women and young boys produce products, which are sold in Europe and the rest of the West “indirectly this slavery becomes part of our lives, the carpets we walk on and the T-shirts we wear.”

The World Day against Child Slavery was first marked on the 16th April 1995 when a 12-year-old Pakistani Christian boy – Igbo Mash – was killed by his country’s mafia. He had been a slave in the textile industry since he was four. At ten, he escaped and denounced what was happening to the USA and the European Union. He paid the ultimate price. Brazil, Myanmar, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin, Egypt and Ivory Coast with their textiles, minerals and chocolate flourish with child slave labour. At last the BBC in June 2012 denounced the cocoa trade in Ivory Coast on its programme “Network Africa.” “Children are easier to control than adults people say” These children are used and abused for our comfort.

Our whole way of life and ways of relating are being challenged. Human Trafficking is around us and in us…that insistent silent scream….the voices of persons not able to defend themselves. Can we hear this cry this evening here in the Gesù?  Where  Cardinal Lavrigerie spoke 125 years ago. Can we bear to hear and feel this pain…Remember that during the 80’s alone, more women and children were enslaved by trafficking from Asia that all the people sold into slavery from Africa in 400 years of the Slave trade. We, as a Church need to be involved … where and when it happens. In Europe much is being done but Africa needs help and justice in order to be able to provide a stable economy where all can benefit.

Lavigerie used every possible resource to eradicate slavery and to alert people to the horrendous situation. We need his human touch to relate as Jesus did…relating human being to human being as truly brothers and sisters- the God-given gift of human life. The Cardinal called the journalists of his day. He challenged…everything and every person. If he could do that in his limited world, surely we can do something in our globalised world with its entire media network. Pope Leo XIII – a visionary concerned for human rights – had found the right man for the job he wanted done.

While Europe challenged slavery in Africa the Missionaries of Africa, the Comboni Missionaries and the Spiritans together with the Society for the Africa Missions faced the front line of its reality and bought and freed slaves, founded villages to allow them to lead a human life.

Already in 1939,Sr Marie Andre de Sacre Coeur MSOLA spoke  to the House of Deputies in Paris concerning the plight of African women and their difficulties as women especially matters concerning early marriages and for sure some of them were being trafficked. In 1983 Sr Lea Ackermann began her work in Mombasa in Kenya bringing to birth SOLWODI (Solidarity for Women in Distress). She is now based in Germany but has 6 offices in Kenya and continues the work she began. In Germany, together with more than a hundred collaborators, she continues her work, as does Sr Eugenia Bonetti in Italy. Other groups, particularly of Religious, work in Nigeria, Kenya, Holland, the UK, the USA, the Philippines and more. We need more men to work in this area. In 2003, the UISG (International Union of Superior Generals) was asked to take up this issue only women religious responded to this call it is as if Human Trafficking were a women’s problem. A good percentage of men are also trafficked

Human trafficking has become a never ending task and we need Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Policies to put in place a holistic approach without there will be no progress in this process. In Ghana, Sr Connie Gemme and Sr Jacqueline Picard MSOLA have been involved in empowerment and prevention of Human Trafficking as well as Victim Support giving new life in a once horrific situation. Many others in Africa have also taken it as a priority  the Missionaries of Africa in South Africa with Fr Sean O’Leary, in Malawi with Fr Bill Turnbull and Fr Jos Cuppens at the Centre of Social Concern. Fr Anselm in Gao Mali. In the Nairobi slums, Sr Mary O’ Malley MMM and Radek Malinowski have unceasingly been creating awareness against human trafficking acting with HAART, a small NGO.

Bishop Martin Kivuva of Machakos, near Nairobi, is supporting a project which involves the Small Christian Communities in awareness, victim support, focussing on the most vulnerable, together with developing programmes which will eventually raise the standard of living and provide appropriate sustainability. I work with the Awareness Against Human Trafficking Collaboration, which partners this project and has benefited from the Missionaries of Africa and Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa. Mombasa’s Archbishop Boniface Lele declared the need do more with Solwodi for vulnerable women and children.

What is human trafficking?
A simple answer would be the trading of women, men and children for the purposes of exploitation. The two factors are crucial in the definition of human trafficking ARE: movement and exploitation. There must be recruitment taking place hence there is transportation. There is a transfer from one place to another and harbouring of the person or persons and there is money paid.

The Palermo Protocol (art 3) provides a global definition when it states that “Trafficking in Persons shall mean 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. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of servitude or the removal of organs.”

The Palermo Protocol definition is long and complicated, and makes us realise how complex the issue is. 185 countries have signed up to this agreement, yet the trafficking still goes on!

When did the term “human trafficking” first appear?
In the 19th and 20th century, when slavery and the slave trade still existed, but were declining, the term “human trafficking” appeared. Initially, it referred to the illegal trade of white women for sex. First international law that tackled the issue of human trafficking was the International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Trade of 1904, popularly called as a White Slave Convention
The end of Cold War saw capitalism as the main dominating socio-economic model
As the tension between the West and the East lessened–barriers were opened between countries. Some states were weak and poor. The technical revolution gave access to untold possibilities of information. Cultural changes accelerated. Economies and societies have become intermingled. Trade as opposed to development has led to the rapidly increasing gap between the rich and the poor.

Kenya in the front line
Kenya, where I work, is a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking… The situation is horrendous and a silent epidemic is rising especially in Nairobi and Mombasa which is a real “hot” spot because of the tourist industry.

How are people trafficked?
It happens easily and sometimes we are too gullible and sucked in without realizing and not questioning the offers they receive. We can all be blind. But once hooked
victims may be threatened and force may be used. All forms of coercion including fraud, deception, abduction abuse of power, abuse of authority, financial incentives are easy methods of manipulation. At the initial stages victims often co-operate.

Human Trafficking has many faces. The exploitation of the prostitution of others is a common way together with forced labour and services. Slavery or other practices akin to slavery are also be used. At the UN it was stated also that often a woman is “not treated as a human person on an equal basis with others but as an object to be exploited”. Housemaids and Houseboys are also very vulnerable to sexual abuse. The removal of body parts is also common in some areas especially for witchcraft.

Children are more naturally trusting and therefore more vulnerable than adults, they provide cheap labour. This is why child labour and child trafficking are closely linked. Adults often move voluntarily but children do not migrate on their own. A child can never consent to a trafficking situation as minor.

Why is the Human Trafficking such a lucrative business?
The supply and demand of women, men and children is constant and the costs are very low. There is little legal framework against human trafficking in general and what there is weak. Many countries like South Africa and Mozambique have no legislation. In October 2010 Kenya enacted the “Trafficking in Persons Act” which brought together a number of important Acts including the Sexual Offences Act 2006. In June 2012 it was found that the Act had not been properly enacted so the process is beginning again.

Lobbying is called for but there is little direction. It is something we are working on how can we otherwise prevent and prosecute offenders! There is also great deal of debate concerning whether prostitution should be legalized or not. The organizers and agencies of human trafficking are rarely targeted. They are hidden and powerful, having many international connections.

Are there special variants in Africa?
Many factors in human trafficking are common worldwide but there are also factors only found in Africa. Prostitution and sexual exploitation and organ trafficking are common worldwide. Generally, when people are trafficked in Africa, brute force would not be used to exploit the trafficked person. The abuse would be more through threats, intimidation, separation from families and the local environment.

Forced Labour what is it?
This is very common and includes cattle herding, working in the fisheries, domestic servitude and sweatshop work. Poverty and lack of education are the driving force in trafficking. Relatives sometimes offer help to educate needy relatives but often education never becomes a reality and those concerned are both used and abused. To employ minors and not pay them is a criminal offence. Many people do not know this in Kenya. As the new Constitution is implemented many could be prosecuted. Often today we find forced labour has become endemic and socially acceptable. It will only change with poverty eradication and education

Factors found mainly in Africa.
In Africa we find the removal of body parts is a common practice especially for witchcraft. Young girls are also raped as a cure against HIV/Aids or are forced to become pregnant and the resulting child is sold to the highest bidder. Some children are driven to the military to become child soldiers; they are traumatised and marked for life. The list is surely not exhaustive…..

What is the Catholic Church saying to us today?
Pope Leo XIII started the ball rolling with his encyclicals concerning rights of workers and on the whole question of “Slavery”. The commitment to end slavery is rooted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Paragraph  no 2414 Vatican II in  1965 reaffirmed the same concern.  “ slavery,  prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as mere tools, for profit rather than as free responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed.  They poison society..and are a supreme dishonour to the Creator”(Guadium et Spes,1965,

Blessed John Paul II reflected the same concern in his Letter to Women in 1995 “Trafficking in human beings-especially women.. flourishes where opportunities to improve their standard of living or even to survive are limited. It becomes easy for the trafficker to offer his own “services” to the victims who do not often vaguely suspect what awaits them.  In some cases there are women and children destined to be exploited almost like slaves in their work and not infrequently in the sex industry, too”. In 2002 he further pointed out that “ the alarming increase in the trade in human beings is one of the pressing,political, social and economic problems associated with the process of globalisation; it presents a serious threat to the security of individual nations and question of international justice cannot deferred”.(Letter on the occasion of the “Twenty-First Century-The Human Rights Dimension to Trafficking in Human Beings” Conference 2002)

In a message to the Seventh Congress on the Pastoral Care of Tourism in; 2012 Pope Benedict XVI wrote “The trafficking of human persons or organ harvesting as well as the exploitation of minors abandoned into the hands of individuals without scruples and undergoing abuse and torture sadly often happens”. He asks that those who are in the field of tourism and indeed the whole international community to fight against this process. (23rd April 2012-Vatican Information Service).

Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and Specialised Agencies in Geneva speaking in September 2011 at the Human Rights Council said:

“Awareness and prevention are key elements in its abolition”. He further commented that we are challenged: “To counteract the scourge of trafficking of women and children with greater determination and more concrete results, a convergence efforts is necessary; a mentality that is centred on the unique dignity of every person, a sure punishment for traffickers, fight against corruption.

“What is new” he said “is the globalisation of this trade and the development of the global market which exploits the extreme poverty and the vulnerability of many women and minors who try to escape the intolerable conditions of misery and violence”. Victim support is also essential in order to integrate victims back into life. (Fides 15th September 2011)

What can we do concretely?
The Catholic Church has the best possible network in the world to eradicate “Trafficking in Persons”. The focus is clear Human Trafficking is the violation of human dignity which is a God-given gift.

We are called to:
•    Challenge the whole economic order to focus on the eradication of poverty and unequal distribution of wealth collaborating is the establishment of a new social order.
•    Regional Bishops’ Conferences exist and provide a vehicle for working together on common concerns and provide basic networks.
•    The Bishops of England and Wales have been asked by the British Police to help them in their work against human trafficking. A Conference was held here in Rome on the 8th May 2012 to share what is happening in this area. Cardinal Turkson the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace hosted the day. The speakers from the UK Police gave a presentation. Sr Eugenia Bonetti, a Consolata Missionary well known here in Italy and elsewhere for her work against human trafficking, shared her experience.
•    Workshops for Bishops, Priests, Religious men and women together with the laity. These are needed to fully understand the complexity and horrific situation that exists.
•    Providing Training of Trainers Sessions in Dioceses in order to touch the grassroots.
•    Each Diocese forms a particular Church and pastoral letter on “Trafficking in Persons” could be an effective tool in the pastoral care programme which could also be a possibility for a renewed reflection on human sexuality and family values together with economic assistance
•    Justice and Peace Commissions at all levels need to be involved in the prevention of human trafficking. Human Trafficking is a Justice and Human Rights issue. In many places it is looked on just as dealing with migrants. This is not true Human Trafficking is a separate desk from Migrants.
•    Small Christian Communities are our way to the grassroots in the rural areas and urban areas including the slums. In Machakos near Nairobi the Awareness Against Human Trafficking Collaboration have worked together with the Bishop and their Caritas Office. We have had Training of Trainers Sessions in order to reach out to every corner of the Diocese which has 900,000 Catholics, 62 parishes and now 11 teams as there are 11 Deaneries. The enthusiasm to do something is enormous… Now we have some victim support. The reports are often heartbreaking.  More will be done to be aware of the conditions especially on the Mombasa highway which has girls as young as 10 selling themselves for food and other essentials. This is not for the faint hearted.
•    Research and information are vitally important to ensure that the needs are clear and can be monitored and evaluated
•    We can provide training and back-up through our Catholic Secretariats as well as working with other Churches and Non Christians. Through the United Religions Initiative, the team I belong to works with Muslims, Hindus, Baha’i as well as other Churches.
•    Networks are basic to the flow of information and there is need of Co-ordinators in the Dioceses who are known and local officials need to know with whom to communicate. Diocesan Networks need the support of a national network and regional network. The International Union of Superiors UISG has been doing this first in Europe where it works well and now in Africa where it is in its infancy. There is a great deal of collaboration being experienced but named networks are more difficult.
•    There is a need for support systems which would include professionals who are prepared to give their time freely to assist victims when asked. There is a need for writers and artists and journalists to use their skill for pass the message though the Media.
•    There is a need for printed material flyers and posters as well as books for Training Trainers. These can be used in schools, hospitals, places of work, places of worship and can be freely given.
•    Use the all the forms of modern media.
•    In every area of our Diocese we reach our through the Sisters Associations…Zambia Uganda, Kenya and many other countries are having workshop but they need to be more and followed up..
•    The Good Samaritan. This is a well known story but have we ever thought about converting the robbers?
•    It was suggested that the 18th May be a Day of Prayer for all who have been trafficked as it is the feast day of St Bakhita. Prayer is the touchstone of awareness of the plight of the trafficked.
•    In Kenya there are more than 2000 parishes. Imagine if we could create awareness in all these parishes, schools together with building a small scale finance sector to assist those who need education most. What about in our school assisting with more scholarships…?
•    What about vocational schools teaching skills? Agricultural training with respect for environment is key…. They exist but often the fees are too high for those who need it most.
•    This awareness can be done through families, the Small Christian Communities, hospitals, formation houses, seminaries, media
•    This sacredness of human person takes commitment and courage so can we can commit ourselves by implementing the three R’s Rescue, Rehabilitation and Re-integration.
•    Today many activities are taking place throughout Africa…Is this not what our presence is about championing the dignity of the human person providing people with a reasonable standard of living for their families and for young people education for both the girl and boy child. Restoring the precious values which in our modern globalised world often disappear.

“In the face of this difficult task and hearing the cries of suffering humanity, we must above all not surrender to discouragement. We must remember that there is a great majority that opposes those who seek to enrich themselves by exploiting the lives of their fellows. It includes men and women, citizens and leaders, people of faith and those of good will, who devote their lives every day in differing organizations and roles to the fight against the scourge of human trafficking. (Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, President Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, 8th May 2012)

If from today we save one person from the horrors of trafficking it has been worth while. However, I believe we now have the opportunity to embark on a process to save many from this human tragedy.

The annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report of the U.S. Department of State (issued each June), which assessed the efforts of 184 foreign governments last year, highlights the “three P’s” – Prevention, Protection and Prosecution – as part of the States responsibilities in the fight against trafficking of human beings. Therefore, we, too, as members of mainly of faith-based organizations with common Christians values, having different roles and responsibilities, but belonging to the same human family should be equally called to action and  to eradicate this evil.

As the Lavigerie family and in the Cardinal’s spirit what are we challenged to do? NOW!
This is a vast ecclesial event that we celebrate.
We are all called to:
•    Join in the fight against trafficking in human beings to free its victims at all levels.
•    Let us share today the legacy that Cardinal Lavigerie has given us for the service of Africa.
•    Can we be his fire, zeal and enthusiasm each in their own way and together as a Church to give witness that the Church cares passionately about the human person?
•    We can challenge Africa as the Synod did to “Rise up” and say “No” to this slavery and with the support of us all we can restore hope in the dignity of the  human person.
•    Can we walk away as the Priest and the Levite did?
•    Remember the Cardinal’s  words “Few people. too few people  have the ultimate vocation; which is to be human”. Where do we stand?
•    This epidemic can be eradicated.
•    Are we prepared  for the challenge  to be truly human  reaching out to others in justice and love?
•    Thank you……in the time we have been here at least 20 people have been trafficked!
Maggi Kennedy MSOLA