MUMBAI, India — Every two minutes, a child is prepared for sexual exploitation.
For Sister Gracy Rodrigues, an Indian nun with the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity (the Canossians), the calls for help by children who are victims of human trafficking can no longer be ignored.
“Today in every corner of the society and the country we hear the cry of the children, ‘I am not safe’,” Rodrigues wrote in an essay titled ‘Children they are, not slaves.’
Rodrigues is a member of the Asian Movement of Women Religious Against Human Trafficking (AMRAT), a network of 52 religious congregations who collaborate to find solutions and put an end to this modern-day form of slavery and exploitation.
AMRAT wishes to fight this evil by creating awareness. “From awareness to prayer, from prayer to solidarity and from solidarity to concrete action, until slavery and trafficking are terminated,” Rodrigues writes.
Pope Francis insisted on the need to collaborate and fight what he called a “crime against humanity,” while speaking to members of RENATE – Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation on November 7, 2016.
Francis also made the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, on February 8, the World Day of Prayer, Reflection and Action Against Human Trafficking.
Speaking at the occurrence this Wednesday, the pope urged governments to give “voice to our younger brothers and sisters who have been wounded in their dignity. All efforts must be made to eradicate this shameful and intolerable crime.”
In one such effort, Rodrigues took part in a rescue mission. When she arrived to the “stinking, polluted, dark” place where three children were kept, she was catapulted in a situation that she would never forget.
“They were treated as slaves. They pleaded and cried before us to be taken away, for they were beaten, burnt, kicked, cheated and looted by the pimp owners,” Rodrigues writes. “This experience has left a mark in my heart which will always move me towards justice and love for the less fortunate, the forgotten, the lost, the least and the unknown.”
An estimated 200 million children today are child laborers and Unicef estimates that 1.2 million children are trafficked every year. “They are trafficked for sexual exploitation, pornography production, forced marriage, illegal adoption, forced labour, and to become child soldiers,” Rodrigues writes.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), told Crux in an email that through AMRAT, the Church in Asia is committed to protect and promote the human dignity of the marginalized.
“Human trafficking is a horrific crime against the fundamental rights and dignity of the human person which regrettably continues to thrive despite adequate legal provisions,” Gracias told Crux. “Both the causes and phenomenon of trafficking are rooted in poverty, illiteracy, lack of opportunities, gender discrimination, social and political violence and demand for services that trafficking victims are forced to provide.”
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences brought together government ministers, judges, law enforcement personnel, medical professionals, human rights activists and journalists on February 7-8 to discuss the issue of organ trafficking within the context of human trafficking in general.
“The problem is worldwide. No one is untouched,” said Shashank Bengali, the South Asia correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. Bengali also stressed that the media can be an ally in fighting human trafficking and that many journalists are looking to tell the stories of the victims.
In Asia, AMRAT has put in place numerous programs to raise awareness to human trafficking. In her letter Rodrigues mentions seminars, meetings with children, prayer services in schools and colleges, street plays and even training the local police.
Rodrigues concluded her letter with a prayer:
“O God, when we hear of children and adults being deceived and taken to unknown places for purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labor, and organ ‘harvesting’, our hearts are saddened and our spirits angry, that their dignity and rights are ignored through threats, lies, and force. We cry out against the evil practice of this modern slavery, and pray with St. Bakhita for it to end. Give us wisdom and courage to reach out and stand with those whose bodies, hearts and spirits have been so wounded, so that together we may make real your promises to fill these sisters and brothers with a love that is tender and good. Send the exploiters away empty-handed to be converted from this wickedness, and help us all to claim the freedom that is your gift to your children. Amen.”