Vatican, religious sisters urge global mobilization against human trafficking

Vatican, religious sisters urge global mobilization against human trafficking

The Vatican today presented details on the first International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking, calling for a global mobilization to assist victims and strengthen laws against traffickers.

It’s the latest in a long series of church efforts against what Pope Francis has called a “crime against humanity.” Although accurate statistics are hard to obtain, some experts estimate that more than 2 million people are trafficked each year, nearly half of them for prostitution. For traffickers and pimps, it is a $32 billion a year industry.

The day of prayer is scheduled for Feb. 8, the feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese kidnaped by slave-traffickers when she was nine years old and who, after she was freed, joined a Catholic religious order.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the prayer initiative was designed to expand awareness “to the very depths of this evil and its farthest reaches.”

The press conference featured a number of women religious, whose orders have taken up the fight against human trafficking by organizing assistance centers around the world. Maltese Sister Carmen Sammut said the anti-trafficking network known as Talitha Kum, established by religious order, now works in 81 countries, helping victims and working for more effective policies against trafficking.

“We are here because we want to encourage all people of good will to join forces so that this terrible global phenomenon can be stopped. Today thousands of children, women and men are sold into slavery, forced labor, prostitution, trafficking of organs,” she said.

It is common, she said, for shady organizations to lure young people into believing they will find jobs abroad, and then trap them in abusive modern forms of slavery.

Several of the speakers said that while such evils are often publicly denounced, the level of trafficking in many countries is increasing. In Italy, for example, the number of street prostitutes on the rise, and those involved are increasingly younger.

Last December, Pope Francis and leaders of other churches and faiths signed a joint declaration calling for the end to all forms of human slavery. The pope also denounced human trafficking in his World Peace Day message for 2015.

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