Sunday 23. January 2022
#164 - October


Fighting human trafficking more effectively


To combat human trafficking, the European Union should encourage closer collaboration with religious and non-denominational organisations working on the ground.

 International cooperation to counter human trafficking is nothing new. Way back in 1902 and 1910, international diplomatic conferences set out to introduce the first measures against international sex trafficking. Since then the fight has been unceasing, spearheaded first by the League of Nations and later by the United Nations, which enacted the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons in 1949.


However, after a century of fighting human trafficking, far from disappearing, it has prospered, proliferated and become more sophisticated. In Europe, an estimated 880,000 people are victim to this form of modern slavery. The situation has worsened since the 2004 enlargement of the European Union and the 2008 economic crisis. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of people trafficked in the EU increased by 18%. According to EUROSTAT report (2013), the profile of  victims  by  sex and  age was:  68  %  women,  17  %  men,  12  %  girls  and  3  %   boys. The same report identifies that persons are trafficked for sexual exploitation  (62  %), forced  labour  (25  %) and for other purposes such as removal of organs, selling of children etc (14%).


It is extremely difficult to address this problem. Traffickers are dwindling in number but becoming more organised. The Schengen area, divergent legislation between countries and lack of political will have enabled them to operate with virtual impunity. As the root causes of trafficking run deep – poverty, unemployment, gender inequality and lack of democratic culture, education and social integration – a long-term effort will be needed to address it.


Alarmed at this situation, the EU issued a set of directives between 2004 and 2011 (see Europeinfos #155 – December 2012). In May 2013, Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, and Myria Vassiliadou, EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, set up the EU Civil Society Platform against trafficking in human beings as a forum where non-governmental organisations could meet to learn from one another, exchange ideas and expand their networks.


It was a wise move. Exchanges are crucial to addressing the root causes of trafficking: partnerships between organisations are formed; ideas are shared around, and the Commission draws inspiration from them. However, while more than a hundred organisations attended the meeting, only very few church and religious organisations were invited: ICMC, Herzwerk-Wien, Caritas Lithuania, Caritas France and Caritas Spain.


Closer cooperation with Christian and non-denominational organisations

A whole host of religious organisations, including Caritas Europa and International Catholic Migration Commission, are currently working to counter trafficking in Europe and elsewhere. They carry out initiatives and provide temporary shelter, counselling, legal aid and food, as well as helping to reintegrate trafficking victims. In Eastern European countries, which are some of the hardest hit by the problem, priests are invited to discuss trafficking in their sermons. Caritas organises role play to educate young people. With their day-to-day experience of working in the community, religious organisations have a wealth of experience to share.


Their universal nature makes them ideally suited to tackling a global issue like human trafficking, the reality of which does not respect administrative boundaries. A full 25% of trafficking victims in the EU come from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Caritas is one organisation that seeks to coordinate anti-trafficking between European and Mediterranean countries. Religious organisations, which build bridges across continents, are essential to the development of anti-trafficking networks.


The Churches are not content to merely deliver messages, they also propose concrete action. The Pastoral Guidelines, published recently by the Pontifical Council, deal specifically with trafficking. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences will further examine the findings at a workshop on 2–3 November 2013 in Rome. A few days later, one of the subjects on which the COMECE Autumn Plenary Assembly will focus is human trafficking. COMECE will draw on the conclusions of its Plenary Assembly for inclusion in its on-going dialogue with the European institutions, in accordance with Article 17 of the Treaty of Lisbon.


Such beneficial cooperation is increasingly being explored or explicitly pursued. By welcoming the well-known anti-trafficking activist, Sister Eugenia Bonetti, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office showed its desire for close collaboration on the matter. Likewise, the International Organisation for Migration is seeking to coordinate the efforts of religious and non-denominational organisations. Gradually the idea is taking root of close dialogue to create effective synergies.


Jean Jacomet



Translated from the original text in French

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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.