“Reach every victim of trafficking. Leave no one behind” – United Nations 2023 World Day against Trafficking in Persons
In recognition of this World Day, we want to share with you stories of the work of faith communities in responding to the horror of human trafficking. Prevention of trafficking and care for the survivors are the twin axes of that work.
Prevention of human trafficking comes largely from raising awareness among vulnerable communities and providing education, and that is exactly what Hope Africa did.
Firstly, they were themselves alive to the problem. The World Cup was coming to South Africa. It was a source of much joy and pride to most South Africans. But as the social development programme of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Hope Africa also recognised that the World Cup was also potentially a source of great pain and suffering. As Canon Delene Mark, CEO of Hope Africa, explained: “We decided that we wanted to run an awareness campaign on human trafficking. We had a situation where, for the duration of the World Cup, for six weeks, our schools were closed. And most parents wouldn’t have had the luxury of a six week holiday to look after their children. So we knew that the kids would find their way to fan parks.”
And they had good reason to be concerned. Delene had seen reports of an almost unbelievable 40,000 women trafficked for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. And they were worried that, with the rate of HIV/Aids known to be very high in South Africa, “they would probably be preying on younger women and children”.
“So we went on quite an extensive and comprehensive programme to create awareness, at parish level, on how to identify human trafficking: what to do if you suspect human trafficking, and then giving scenarios.” And they immediately found a resonance in the community: “People then started telling stories – there’s a chief in our village who gets the young girls to go to Johannesburg to work. And quite often they don’t come back.”
During the six weeks of the World Cup, there were holiday clubs in churches all over the country: “there would be daily activities for them. And that would include things like a talk from the ambulance service, a talk on first aid, a talk from the police about how to keep themselves safe, and if they are in a situation, where to get help.”
Hope Africa also conducted an extensive awareness programme with border control officials “because we had to get them to understand how to identify if there were people coming into the country and most likely being trafficked.” And they made sure that there were billboards at all border posts with messages about stopping human trafficking, and a helpline. And then they provided support structures, including safe housing, for survivors. Listen to Delene’s full interview here:
It was extraordinary that Busi (not her real name) was so composed when we talked over Zoom. The story she told was a devastating one. A child of rape herself, deserted by her mother after she tried to kill her when she was three months old, brought up by grandparents until the age of 12, when they both died within a week of each other, she ended up living with her mother and her husband in Johannesburg. She then herself was repeatedly raped by her step-father, and at the age of 16 sold by her mother to a trafficking gang. She ended up rescued in the Western Cape Province, and then began a long and painful process of recovering herself.
Busi met Delene and Hope Africa when she was staying in a place of safety after being rescued and they were doing research on how churches can help survivors. Initially she was wary and sceptical. “My parents served in the church. I used to go to church every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday for youth. And still they abused me in the house. Abuse, human trafficking it’s not something that they talk about in the church. Instead of that, they blame the prostitute – why are they selling their body on the streets, because that is the temple of God? Instead of going to the deep roots, what went wrong.”
But she recognised the positive, caring role that the church can play: “What I also saw with the church is togetherness. They accept you for who you are; they’re willing to help you restore your dignity and return to the community. That was huge. Because when you come back, you’re not the same, and how you see things it’s not the same. They were willing to help me to navigate this life and I will say that was great”.
Hope Africa supported Busi through a three-year education programme.
What is human trafficking?
Human trafficking can take many forms. Modern day slaves include women who are trafficked for sex, people, including children, trafficked for slave labour, men trafficked to work on ships, even people trafficked to harvest their organs for transplants. They all have one thing in common: the exploitation of vulnerable people through vicious means, including force, threat and deception, for the profit of others.
The UN’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons presents a mixed but largely negative picture. While the number of detected victims fell for the first time in 20 years, this may largely be a reflection of the crime being pushed even further underground by the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, there is a global slowdown in convictions, and climate change is multiplying the risks of trafficking through mass displacements of people.
Just as was the case with Busi, the report finds that “organised criminal groups account for most detected victims and convicted offenders. When larger, more structured criminal organisations get involved, they manage to traffic more people in a more violent way and for longer periods of time.” Human trafficking is a massive global criminal enterprise.
For the 2023 World Day against Trafficking in Persons, the United Nations took the theme: “Reach every victim of trafficking. Leave no one behind.” The UN writes: “Global crises, conflicts, and the climate emergency are escalating trafficking risks. Displacement and socio-economic inequalities are impacting millions of people worldwide, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers. Those who lack legal status, live in poverty, have limited access to education, healthcare, or decent work, face discrimination, violence, or abuse, or come from marginalized communities are often the primary targets of traffickers.” “Leave no one behind” is a central commitment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The role of faith communities
Global faith communities are uniquely placed to play a part in both prevention and care. We have seen how Hope Africa made use of the network of the church for a mass awareness and care campaign. An informed church can have eyes everywhere to see the signs and report incidents of modern slavery. We are also uniquely placed in local communities to help prevent trafficking from occurring.
Across the Anglican Communion, churches are responding in many ways: working to prevent human trafficking and supporting survivors; building partnerships for response and advocating for stronger legislation; and tackling the roots causes of poverty, conflict and displacement that make people vulnerable to exploitation.
The Anglican Alliance
The Anglican Alliance is working with churches and partner organisations across the Anglican Communion and beyond to promote safe migration and tackle human trafficking. We seek to equip and support church communities to understand their context, access resources and partnerships, and identify how churches can use their particular position within local communities and national society for prevention and the protection of survivors.
Since 2014, the Anglican Alliance has convened ten consultations across the Communion on safe migration and human trafficking, bringing together Anglicans and ecumenical partners to distil their experience to build a strategic framework for response – the Freedom Framework (see below). This work has been done largely in partnership with The Salvation Army, as well as other ecumenical partners. The Alliance also runs an online course called Freedom Fridays in February. Please contact the Anglican Alliance if you would like to get involved.
The Anglican Alliance website has a resource hub which includes sections on What is human trafficking?(definitions; relevant global agreements; how trafficking intersects with other issues; Biblical context) and How can churches respond? (safeguarding; the Freedom Framework; resources; material to mark a Freedom Sunday). Survivors should always be at the heart of defining how churches can respond appropriately and effectively.
A message for survivors
Busi had a message for other survivors: “ I will say be kind with yourself and also accept help. You cannot do healing on your own. You will need support, you will need people that will hold your hand and say it‘s okay like to break down. It’s okay to reach out when you see that you need help. And I believe that everyone need help. It’s not an easy journey. It’s hard, because I still find it hard even today. But healing is possible. And you can dream again. You are not alone.”
And of course, that is also a message to all of us – to be the people who hold the hands of the survivors.