UN Representative Reports ‘Troubling’ Global Meeting on Human Trafficking

After attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting on the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, Church of the Brethren UN representative Doris Abdullah wrote the following report and personal responses to the issue:

“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary wife of Cleophas and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25).

I am writing to you about how we, as people of faith, may help in the struggle against modern day slavery. Modern day slavery is best known to us, today, as Trafficking in Persons. While the facts involved in 2013 trafficking in persons are troubling, the knowledge that we are doing so little to slow down this horror, is even more disturbing. Awareness of these facts, wisdom, Christian love, and clarity I hope will help us explore the issue and make a difference.

Some basic and troubling facts, given at the two-day meeting:

a. The global 2012 report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that women, used for sexual purposes, make up the largest number of those trafficked. Forced labor make up the second largest group of persons in slavery. Women are often both forced laborers and sex slaves.

b. Trafficking is a global problem with origin, transit, and destinations from 155 countries and territories. The bulk of reporting came from the 155 governments that participated in the data gathering while only 7 percent of the information came from non-governmental sources.

c. Factual information from the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, and Saisuree Chutikul, board member of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for victims of trafficking: The age of girls in sex slavery has dropped to as young as 5 years old. In addition, young women in slavery are now being forced to become pregnant in order that their babies can be sold, with mother and child bought and sold as “chattel slaves.” Chattel slavery (personal property) was the method of slavery in the USA from 1655-1863.

d. The UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking has received contributions, year to date, of only $806,000 from 12 of the 193 countries at the UN plus private donors. The 12 countries gave 54 percent or $559,000 and private donors gave the balance of $247,000. The Swedish ambassador rose from the floor, after this startling announcement of so little funds in a fund set up by themselves, and read from his cell phone another $100,000 pledge from Sweden.

So much more was said over the two days, and so much needs to be done to combat this awful moral lapse in our society, as well as criminal enterprise. While the nations need to step up to the plate, pay into their own created voluntary fund, and clean up their societies with better enforceable laws, we have the deeper commitment of doing Christian clean-up within ourselves.

I venture to say that we can start with behavior that follows the examples of the Marys who followed Jesus from Galilee and stood by him at the cross. In our churches can we preach more?  Maybe we can begin to bring forth the positive aspects of all women. As persons of faith, we owe it to women enslaved everywhere to stand up and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

That I am upset about these findings on trafficking is an understatement. Outrage alone is not enough. We must start to work within our outrage to combat the problem. I offer the pulpit as a start, because we are Christians. I feel that we have a pulpit alternative in the scriptures for combating trafficking of women, forced labor, and all inhumanity.

Another way to bring awareness is to start with gatherings where we show films and documentaries on trafficking in persons, which often come with educational materials that can be used in discussions. I recommend the PBS series “Half the Sky.”

Another resource is online videos and recordings of speakers on trafficking, as well as documents and reports such as those presented at the UN meeting.

— Doris Abdullah is the denomination’s UN representative and chairs the Human Rights Sub-Committee for Elimination of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance.

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