Human trafficking and modern slavery

Carole Murphy, Research Lead at the Centre for the Study of Modern Slavery at St Mary’s University, reflects on the Catholic Church’s response to modern slavery and human trafficking.

Pope Francis’ theme for World Peace Day 2015 was ‘No longer Slaves but brothers and sisters’. He said: ‘All of us are called [by God] to be free, all are called to be sons and daughters, and each, according to his or her own responsibilities, is called to combat modern forms of enslavement. From every people, culture and religion, let us join our forces.’

In 2014, Pope Francis called human trafficking ‘an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ’. At a meeting in Rome police chiefs and Catholic Bishops, in the presence of the Pope, signed a declaration committing to a partnership to eliminate human trafficking and thus establishing the Santa Marta Group.1 The group now includes representatives from thirty-five countries worldwide.

The Walk Free Foundation defines modern slavery as the deprivation of individual liberty for the purpose of exploitation. This includes slavery-related practices such as human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, commercial sexual exploitation and the sale and exploitation of children.2 The Global Slavery Index reports that in 2016, 40.3 million adults and children were in slavery worldwide.3 According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), there were 21 million victims of human trafficking alone in 2015, worth $150 million profit for traffickers.

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