Churches must join forces to fight the crime of human trafficking

LWF and WCC stress need to listen to voices of survivors and step up prevention among communities at risk

(LWI) – On UN World Human Trafficking Day, survivors shared stories of their traffickers’ escape and helping others find hope from experiences so deeply traumatic. Asian women participated in a webinar titled “Stop the Flow: End Human Trafficking”, organized by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in partnership with the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The July 30 event underscored the importance of listening to the voices of victims of trafficking who are often ignored, stigmatized and re-traumatized by inhumane legal and repressive procedures if they attempt to denounce their traffickers. Moderator Ruth Mathen, Christian Conference of Asia, noted that this crime against humanity has seen a sharp increase in recent months as COVID-19 has left large numbers of girls and young women out of school or out of school. work and therefore more vulnerable to trafficking gangs.

The webinar showcased the work churches are already doing to support survivors and called for stronger coordination to prevent young people from falling prey to traffickers. It featured the work of two artists and spoken word activists from Jamaica and Korea who are committed to raising awareness about the dangers of human trafficking. The hearing-impaired preacher, Reverend Mary Chipoka of the Reformed Church of Zimbabwe, began with a short sign language sermon on the slave woman in Acts 16, which Paul frees from captivity and is imprisoned because “her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone.

Living with dignity for survivors in Cambodia

Ms. Veasna Heang, Program Manager of the Cambodian organization “Life with Dignity”, spoke about the profound physical and psychological consequences of trafficking which often lead survivors to despair and suicide. Children from impoverished families in Cambodia are particularly at risk, she noted, with many being sold into slavery as street vendors or beggars on the streets of Thailand and Vietnam. Victims of sex trafficking are often forced to use drugs, she said, in order to be more obedient, engage in riskier behaviors and be exploited by more abusers.

Heang, herself a survivor of trafficking, noted that tackling stigma is another major challenge for those seeking to support victims and their families. Those who manage to escape and return to their places of origin are often blamed and rejected by family members or communities for not bringing back the money the traffickers had promised. Life with Dignity, which began in 1979 as Lutheran World Service Cambodia, supports vulnerable rural communities in more than 330 villages in six western and central provinces.

A young Cambodian woman, who is supported by Life with Dignity, shared her story of being lured by traffickers to China to escape an abusive husband. Two Filipino women also spoke about their experiences trafficking for work in Malaysia and Japan. One of them recounted how he was made to marry a Japanese man who raped, beaten her and deprived her of food if she refused his advances. Like many other survivors, who prefer to remain anonymous to protect themselves and their families, she suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder as she seeks justice and is forced to remember her ordeals.

Empower women in the Philippines

The two Filipino women were supported by an organization called Batis Center for Women, based in Quezon City. The Center began as a foster home for survivors who had been trafficked and exploited as “facilitators” in Japan and had no protection or support when they returned to their home countries. Batis offers an airport reception service, psychosocial support and family integration counseling for survivors, as well as vocational training and economic assistance to help trafficked women build a new life for them. themselves and their families.

One of the directors of the Batis Center, Andrea Luisa Anolin, who is also a survivor of trafficking, shared other good practices, including human rights training and women’s empowerment programs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she added, the Center expanded its services to provide emergency assistance to survivors and support their children to help them continue with home education programs.

Symbols of hope in Nigeria

Rev. Emmanuel Gabriel, of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN), is the national coordinator of Symbols of Hope in his country, a LWF initiative that empowers churches to respond to irregular migration and human trafficking. human beings in context. Besides awareness raising, LCCN supports potential migrants and returnees, including victims of human trafficking, with psychosocial counseling and livelihood activities. Gabriel noted that Nigeria is one of the countries with the highest number of victims of trafficking, some of whom are sold into slavery by their own families or communities. Even churches, he said, can be complicit in persuading young people to believe the traffickers’ promises of good jobs and easy income.

He said churches should “stand up from the pulpit”, raise awareness of the dangers, as well as “challenge governments that fail to deliver justice to survivors.” Anolin urged churches to continue supporting the life-saving work of small organizations like the Batis Center, which “touches the lives of so many with healing and hope”. Poverty, corruption and lack of law enforcement are among the root causes of this crime in all regions of the world, speakers said. It is therefore vital for support organizations to harness the potential of their networks to build capacity and strengthen prevention work with those most at risk.

FLM / P. Hitchen


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