Joining together in Latin America to combat modern slavery and human trafficking

12 December 2017

  • “It is great to see the commitment to mutual knowledge.”
  • “It is very transformative – coming together with the same objective from different countries and churches, with a meeting of energies.”
  • “Sharing skills and experience, we are both giving and receiving.”
  • “The meeting was a great opportunity to connect and strengthen the involvement of the local church in prevention and advocacy work.”

These were some of the reflections of the group meeting in Brasilia last week at the Latin American Workshop on Human Trafficking. This was held in Brasilia from 6-11 November, hosted by the Anglican Province of the Episcopal Church in Brazil and convened by the Anglican Alliance and the Salvation Army, with a final day jointly held with Caritas Internationalis and its global Anti-Human Trafficking network, COATNET.

This was the third regional consultation organised by the Anglican Alliance and the Salvation Army. The meeting gathered leaders from the Anglican and Episcopal Churches and the Salvation Army in Latin America. Participants from the two denominations came from Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, Venezuela, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile and Brazil. There were also participants from the Church of England and the Church of Canada sharing about the work on trafficking and migration in their own provinces.

The consultation heard about the remarkable ministry of the various participants, working to end the suffering of human trafficking in their own contexts. These examples included: working on prevention within communities, including initiatives with youth to become peer educators; advocating to ensure that governments fulfil their statutory duties for protection and support of victims; supporting prosecution processes; supporting people to escape from slavery and connect with services; protecting young people formerly trafficked into gangs; maintaining a pastoral presence in red light districts to help sex workers (including those who have been trafficked) to imagine future options and equip themselves for alternative livelihoods; providing practical help for people smuggled over borders and at risk from traffickers.

The meeting opened with a Biblical reflection led by Anglican Alliance Latin America Facilitator, Prof. Paulo Ueti. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) In the context of modern slavery and human trafficking, this verse had particular resonance.

The group reflected on how ‘conforming to this world’ means being complicit in a form of consumerism where even humans are for sale, conforming to what Pope Francis has called “the globalisation of indifference.” Being transformed is to see afresh, to renew one’s mind and perspective; to see with God’s eyes. We are called to speak out with prophetic commitment against human trafficking and to build up a society which cares.

The group heard from a survivor from the Caribbean who had tried to reach her children in the US but had instead been trafficked into domestic and sexual servitude in Brazil. Her story revealed the legal and psychological complexities of recovery and rehabilitation from such trauma.

The meeting also heard from the Brazilian Institute of Migration and Human Rights about a group of 22 Bangladeshi men caught as labourers in desperate conditions, which, under Brazilian law, were described as ‘conditions analogous to slavery’. The men had believed that they owed their gang-masters for their food, accommodation and transportation – indeed that this was their job. They hoped to work enough to get proper papers. Since their rescue, the Institute has helped them to understand their situation, to get a legal pathway to justice, and then to determine their aspirations for their future. The men’s situation was helped by donations of basic needs from the community and Portuguese language lessons from volunteers – both activities in which local churches can engage.

The purpose of the consultation was to strengthen the churches’ capacity for an effective response to human trafficking across Latin America. It aimed to define best practice for churches, with a focus on prevention, but also on care and support for survivors, and in policy and advocacy work.

The issue of trafficking/slavery is a growing global crisis, with recent estimates of 40-45 million people oppressed in slavery in almost every part of the world, including within Latin America and between Latin America and other regions. The issue has been raised as a priority in all of the Anglican Alliance regional consultations.

The consultation looked at the trends of modern slavery & human trafficking within Latin America and considered some of the aspects: i.e. for labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, trafficking of children, trafficking at sea, trafficking into gangs, organ trafficking. The participants also discussed best practice for effective responses by churches.

In this video, Ruth Dearnley, CEO of Stop the Traffik, talks about how we can be a light in the world and encourage communities to understand trafficking, how it affects them, and what they can do about it.

Discussions were based around the strategic framework developed by the Anglican Alliance and the Salvation Army called The 7 Ps:

  • Prevention: awareness raising in churches and communities; prevention programmes focused on demand and reducing vulnerability.
  • Protection: exit provision to get victims out of slavery; safe havens; immediate needs provision, medium shelter and long term rehabilitation, preventing re-trafficking; reunification and repatriation or resettlement.
  • Prosecution: referral for legal advice; accompaniment of survivors through the legal process.
  • Partnership: with other churches and other agencies – NGOs, government, UN bodies.
  • Policy: advocacy at local, national and regional level to see effective policy and legislation agreed and implemented to achieve system change to prevent/reduce trafficking
  • Participation: encouraging the individual and corporate response in all parts of the churches, including marking Freedom Sunday.
  • Prayer: individually and corporately to see change and seek God’s guidance and blessing on the work.

The 7 Ps envisage a holistic response to human trafficking. The participants reflected that the Church does not need to be involved in every element; rather it can survey which other agencies are involved and identify the gaps where churches can add value. With the presence of the churches within communities they have a key role in building awareness to help prevent trafficking, as well as connecting victims with the authorities who can safely rescue them. A report will follow giving details of the consultation and outcomes.

On the final day, the participants joined colleagues from the Roman Catholic organisation Caritas and the wider COATNET – the network for Christian Organisations Against Trafficking, which is convened by Caritas Internationalis. The two meetings had been planned back to back so that delegates could benefit from each others’ insights and participate in each other’s meetings.

Moving forwards, the group decided to keep connected through social media. They will also encourage the provinces and dioceses to get engaged, including creating a Freedom Sunday resource especially for the region.

Paulo said that: “The meeting marks a crucial moment to a faith response to the diabolic business that it is trafficking and slavery. The response must be full of courage, prophecy and efficiency. The churches are in a privileged place to contribute to end trafficking and slavery.”