By Michelle Hough*
VATICAN CITY — Tomorrow, May 1, many countries will mark International Labor Day to celebrate the workers of the world. It is a public holiday here in Italy and in many other nations. But there are millions of people who rarely get days off. These are the estimated 21 million people who are the victims of trafficking.
You don’t have to go to “the peripheries,” in the words of Pope Francis, to meet these victims, because often they are “hiding in plain sight” in our societies. They’ve picked and packaged our food, they’ve made our cheap clothes, they’re looking after our children and parents and they are walking the streets in our cities.
With the support of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, COATNET — Christian Organizations Against Trafficking in Human Beings — made this short film about trafficking.
Here are 10 things you may not know about trafficking:
- Trafficking is another name for modern slavery. Trafficking is the exploitation of people who may be trafficked into prostitution, forced labour or domestic servitude through deception or kidnapping. Sometimes they are transported across borders.
- Trafficking is said to be the third largest criminal industry in the world.
- The demand for cheap clothes, cheap sex and cheap, illegal and informal labor is at the roots of trafficking.
- Victims are often women from poor backgrounds and with little education. They end up being abused as domestic workers or being forced into prostitution.
- Children are also vulnerable to trafficking. They may end up in sexual exploitation or bonded or domestic labor, or made to become camel jockeys, drugs couriers or child soldiers.
- Men are trafficked, too. They are heavily exploited in agriculture or construction, often live in inhuman conditions and are sometimes sexually abused.
- It is not necessarily men who are traffickers. Women sometimes befriend other women of their country and lure them into a situation where they are trafficked. There are “madams” who ensure a constant supply of sex workers from Africa and Eastern Europe to richer countries.
- Some traffickers make people believe they will have better life in another country, but once they get them abroad they take away their passport, their rights and their freedom. Sometimes recruitment agencies facilitate the trafficking.
- People are sometimes trafficked and killed for their organs and their heads, which are used in traditional medicine.
- People who escape a trafficked situation may end up being a slave again because they have no documents and they can’t find other work. Other former victims of trafficking don’t want to return to their kin because they feel ashamed that they’ve been duped and that they’ve failed their family.
*Hough is a communications officer for Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based confederation of more than 160 national Catholic charities from around the world.