From Rome to Boston, a shared mission to fight human trafficking
June 29, 2015. Pope Francis has gone to great lengths to teach how environmental damage and human trafficking lead to the same crisis. Last month, his efforts included Vatican workshops on modern slavery and climate change for more than 60 mayors from around the world, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.
Catholic Relief Services defines human trafficking as “the coerced use of human beings as objects of commerce … a reemergence of slave labor and extreme forms of sexual exploitation.”
Anyone marred by environmental disaster or economic ruin can be enslaved. Before and after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, rural families sent their children to work for wealthier families. These children are known as restaveks, and what hope their parents had for their welfare was quickly extinguished. Restaveks are unpaid, abused, overworked, and eventually cast out on the street, only to be absorbed by gangs. “The majority of trafficking cases [in Haiti] are found among the estimated 225,000 or so restaveks,” U.S. Ambassador Luis CdeBaca remarked at the Harvard Kennedy School in 2010.
Trafficking victims are kidnapped, sold, or swindled and robbed. Those caught in foreign countries can be detained and deported, only to be victimized again in their homeland. The United Nations estimates that more than 25 percent of trafficking victims are children; women and girls make up almost 60 percent of victims globally. Whether in the claws of Boko Haram or a drug smuggler, innocents are easy prey for one of humanity’s oldest and saddest enterprises.
Speaking to mayors at the Vatican workshops, the Pope discussed a need to involve the U.N. in all future responses. The Holy Father will speak before assemblies at the United Nations and Congress in September.
“What is needed is a politics which is far-sighted and capable of a new, integral and interdisciplinary approach to handling the different aspects of the crisis,” the Pontiff wrote in his recent Encyclical, Laudato Si’. “It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted.”
At the Vatican, Mayor Walsh and his counterparts signed a “Joint Declaration against Modern Slavery Supporting Revisions to Sustainable Development Goals”. An excerpt reads,
“As mayors we commit ourselves to building, in our cities and urban settlements, the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reducing their exposure to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters, which foster human trafficking and dangerous forced migration.”
Like other cities, Boston is a haven for traffickers. Authorities have found prostitution and laundering schemes in Chinatown massage parlors, Dorchester nail salons, and Route 1 motels. Some “employees” in these schemes were acquired overseas, and others were local. Five years ago, a trafficker was convicted for kidnapping teens off the streets for a prostitution ring.
For all these victims, help is on the way. In March, Mayor Walsh announced Boston’s enlistment with CEASE, or Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation. The alliance aims to cut the sex trade in multiple American cities by 20 percent in two years. Locally, this requires the participation of police, public officials, and every Bostonian.
Walsh’s comments on CEASE echoed the Pope’s own statements on defending human dignity: “In Boston, we will not tolerate this illegal and exploitative industry that deprives vulnerable people of their basic human rights and funds a predatory business often tied to gangs and organized crime.”
If you think you have come in contact with a victim of human trafficking, call the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline at (888) 373-7888.