ROME — Pope Francis has once again committed the Vatican to the fight against human trafficking, sending his point man on the issue to a conference on the worst form of this crime, child trafficking, on Monday at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna.
In his message, the pontiff called human trafficking a “form of slavery, a crime against humanity, a grave violation of human rights, an atrocious scourge, and it is all the more to be condemned when it takes place against children.”
The pope’s message to the OSCE was given by Father Michael Czerny, the under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugee Section of the Vatican’s new “Integral Development” office.
According to the dicastery’s statutes, the section concerning refugees and migrants will be temporarily under the pontiff, who will head it for as long as he considers it necessary.
The OSCE was founded during the Cold War as a talking shop between the Western and Eastern blocs, and now works for arms control, the promotion of human rights, and monitors elections in its 57 member-states.
Since 2003, it has worked to stop human trafficking through the establishment of a special office dedicated to the issue.
“All too many children continue to be exploited, maltreated, enslaved, prey to violence and illicit trafficking,” Czerny told the organization, quoting the pope, “still too many children live in exile, as refugees, at times lost at sea, particularly in the waters of the Mediterranean.”
Czerny spoke about what is called the “three pillars” of fighting human trafficking: To prevent, to protect, to prosecute.
The priest said prevention can only happen by tackling both supply and demand, noting “several factors increase the vulnerability of the child victims, namely endemic poverty, inadequate child protection, ignorance and cultural constraints” in the places trafficking victims originate.
Czerny blamed “modern capitalism at its amoral extremes” for the continuing demand of trafficked children, saying “it is able to commoditize absolutely everything, even young lives.”
He said the multiple forms of child slavery will never be stopped if “more rigorous and effective action is not taken against those who profit from such abuse.”
As for the second pillar – protection – Czerny said that both governments and NGO’s have created “many remarkable initiatives” to ensure better protection of child victims of trafficking, but said these must emphasize the best interests of the child, “in which the family dimension occupies a place of greatest importance.
“Protection of children requires the protection of families; therefore, policies and programs must provide families with the essential tools to protect and nurture their children in situations of vulnerability,” he said, specifically mentioning decent housing, health-care, work opportunities, and education.
Turning to the third “P”, prosecution, Czerny said “the complexity of the global human trafficking scenario” makes this very difficult, noting the movement from countries of origin, through transit countries, and finally to the countries of destination.
Quoting the pope, Czerny said “it is not possible to commit so complex a crime as human trafficking without the complicity, by action or omission, of states.
“While acknowledging the efforts of some countries to punish those responsible for such crimes, we must sadly note that there are still too few cases where ‘consumers’ have ended up in prison,” Czerny continued, “while perhaps not the masterminds, they are definitely the real authors responsible for such heinous crimes.”
The Vatican official concluded his remarks by calling for a fourth “P” to be added to the fight against trafficking: Partnership.
Czerny said different members of society have different abilities and skills when it comes to battling trafficking, and said many victims, not trusting public institutions for fear of retribution, will turn to religious and civic organizations for help.
“Encounter, networking, social media, and spirituality are among the useful means exercising partnership,” he said.
Francis has been at the forefront of forging such partnerships. In 2014, following initiatives by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and England’s Metropolitan Police, the pontiff oversaw the formation of the Santa Marta Group, named after the Vatican guesthouse in which the pope resides.
The Group brings together religious groups and police forces from around over 30 countries to work together to fight trafficking, since religious workers are the people most likely to be approached by a trafficked person.
Participating organizations include the UK National Crime Agency, Interpol, Europol, US Homeland Security, the Argentine Federal Police, Ghanaian, Indian, Thai, Australian, Irish and many European police forces.
Francis has also tasked the Vatican’s Pontifical Academies for Science and Social Sciences to help bring attention to “these new forms of slavery.”
A series of workshops on the subject have taken place at the Academy headquarters, including a 2016 judges summit, which looked at better methods of prosecuting those criminals trading in human lives.