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MGR. ROBERT J. VITILLO — STATES, CIVIL SOCIETY AND INDIVIDUALS ALL NEED TO UNDERSTAND AND EFFECTIVELY RESPOND TO THE ROOT CAUSES OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING

MGR. ROBERT J. VITILLO — STATES,  CIVIL SOCIETY AND INDIVIDUALS  ALL NEED TO UNDERSTAND AND EFFECTIVELY RESPOND TO THE ROOT CAUSES  OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING

NOVEMBER 30, 2023 — GENEVA (SWITZERLAND)

The video of this full event is avail­able HERE.

MGR. ROBERT J. VITILLO: Well, thank you, Michel, for this invi­ta­tion.  It’s real­ly a great hon­our and a priv­i­lege to offer some per­spec­tives in this meet­ing  that aims to reflect and plan actions in response to  two human phe­nom­e­na that are in stark con­trast posi­tion in con­flict,  that is human traf­fick­ing and human rights.

The for­mer has apt­ly been described by Pope Fran­cis  as an open wound on the body of con­tem­po­rary soci­ety,  the lat­ter which was solemn­ly and uni­ver­sal­ly declared  with no dis­sent­ing votes by the Unit­ed Nations Gen­er­al Assem­bly.  Here I quote the words of a for­mer pres­i­dent of the Human Rights Coun­cil,  an Ambas­sador from Nige­ria,  who said, “Strove to artic­u­late and cod­i­fy  the tran­scen­dent prin­ci­ples of the inher­ent dig­ni­ty  of each and every human per­son from the moment of con­cep­tion to nat­ur­al death.”

While gov­ern­ments had made sig­nif­i­cant efforts to pre­serve these human rights,  as Michel said, and also our last speak­er said,  I feel com­pelled to note with great regret that var­i­ous sit­u­a­tions in today’s world  point out the bla­tant dis­re­spect for the human rights mech­a­nisms  that have been estab­lished, and even greater dis­re­spect  for the mem­bers of our human fam­i­ly who are the bear­ers of such rights.

Human traf­fick­ing cer­tain­ly rep­re­sents one of the great­est human rights  fail­ures of past and present eras.  Such fail­ure may be root­ed in our lim­it­ed focus on the legal and tech­ni­cal aspects.  With all due respect to the attor­neys here and pro­mo­tion of human rights,  whilst such ele­ments are fun­da­men­tal to such efforts,  they are not at all sufficient.

In this regard, at least in my opin­ion, the Catholic Church’s approach  to human rights maybe quite help­ful  since we nev­er artic­u­late a right  with­out pre­sent­ing its con­comi­tant responsibility.

Thus, as rights bear­ers, all mem­bers of the human fam­i­ly have  respon­si­bil­i­ties to rec­og­nize, pro­mote and defend both rights of their own  as well as the rights of oth­ers.  With regard to human traf­fick­ing, I believe that States,  civ­il soci­ety and indi­vid­u­als  all need to under­stand and effec­tive­ly respond to the root caus­es  of human trafficking.

Giv­en the com­plex phe­nom­e­na of human traf­fick­ing  and forced unsafe migra­tion, I am ful­ly aware of the impos­si­bil­i­ty  to cap­ture all the root caus­es in a short peri­od of time.  I’ll take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to cite some exam­ples of efforts under­tak­en  by my own orga­ni­za­tion, the Inter­na­tion­al Catholic Migra­tion Com­mis­sion,  or ICMC, to pre­vent human traf­fick­ing and smug­gling.  Address the needs of its sur­vivors, and advo­cate with the entire human fam­i­ly  to elim­i­nate this evil from our world of today and in the future.  Since some of you may not have heard of ICMC pre­vi­ous­ly,  I’ll give a brief intro­duc­tion to this orga­ni­za­tion.  It was found­ed by Pope Pius XII in 1951,  and he gave us the man­date to form a net­work of Catholic insti­tu­tions,  includ­ing groups of Catholic Bish­ops world­wide,  as they respond to migra­tion and refugee chal­lenges.  We quick­ly began by reset­tling refugees from Europe to North and South Amer­i­ca  and else­where, by pro­tect­ing those who were vul­ner­a­ble to abuse,  even though we did­n’t use the words human traf­fick­ing in those days.  We con­tin­ue our reset­tle­ment and human­i­tar­i­an pro­gram to this very day.  We have some 300 staff work­ing in some 40 coun­tries,  but this is only the tip of the ice­berg when com­pared to the thou­sands of staff  and vol­un­teers engaged by local, region­al and glob­al church efforts  by dio­ce­ses says reli­gious con­gre­ga­tions, Catholic-inspired orga­ni­za­tions,  and those good neigh­bours inspired by the gospel  to ful­fil Pope Fran­cis’s invi­ta­tion to wel­come, pro­tect,  pro­mote and inte­grate refugees and migrants wher­ev­er they may be.

 

Now for some of the causes. 

 

Root cause num­ber one, at least in my per­spec­tive,  is extreme pover­ty and unequal access to enjoy basic human rights  to a lifewor­thy of God-giv­en human rights and human dig­ni­ty,  edu­ca­tion at all lev­els, as well as decent work, hous­ing  and the phys­i­cal, social and spir­i­tu­al con­di­tions  that help chil­dren and adults  to pro­vide ade­quate­ly for them­selves and their families.

Those deprived of such basic essen­tials of life eas­i­ly become more vul­ner­a­ble  to human traf­fick­ing, or to des­per­ate­ly seek unsafe migra­tion routes.  The 2023 Glob­al Mul­ti­di­men­sion­al Pover­ty Index from the UN Devel­op­ment Pro­gram  shows that 1.1 bil­lion out of 6.1 bil­lion peo­ple, just over 18%,  live in an acute mul­ti­di­men­sion­al pol­i­cy across 110 countries.

Sub-Saha­ran Africa with 534 mil­lion and South­east Asia with 389 mil­lion,  are home to approx­i­mate­ly five out of every six poor per­sons.  Near­ly two-thirds of all poor peo­ple, 730 mil­lion peo­ple  live in mid­dle-income coun­tries, mak­ing action in these coun­tries vital  for reduc­ing glob­al poverty.

In speak­ing about dif­fer­ent caus­es of human traf­fick­ing,  Pope Fran­cis calls our atten­tion to  “The first place of pover­ty, under­de­vel­op­ment and exclu­sion,  espe­cial­ly when com­bined with a lack of access to edu­ca­tion or scarce,  even nonex­is­tent employ­ment opportunities.”

Root cause num­ber 2the lack of birth reg­is­tra­tion and oth­er impor­tant doc­u­ments,  the 2020 report­ed the Inde­pen­dent Com­mis­sion of Inquiry on the Syr­i­an Arab  Repub­lic issued this alarm:  “Girls and boys also face con­sid­er­able obsta­cles  relat­ed to doc­u­men­ta­tion  and are vul­ner­a­ble to exploita­tion through child labour  or child mar­riage, often as a result of dis­ap­pear­ance of male parental fig­ures.  Cru­cial­ly for their long-term prospects, a huge num­ber of chil­dren have missed out  on years of edu­ca­tion and are cur­rent­ly out of school.  This sta­tus quo will affect the abil­i­ty of boys and girls to exer­cise  their basic rights in innu­mer­able ways as they grow older.

The lack of such doc­u­men­ta­tion pre­vent access to vital ser­vices,  and often forces migrant and refugee chil­dren and adults  to seek the ser­vices of smug­glers and traf­fick­ers to reach their des­ti­na­tions,  to be reunit­ed with fam­i­ly mem­bers,  or to accept in decent or exploita­tive work situations.

One in four chil­dren under age five, 166 mil­lion on aver­age,  are not reg­is­tered in the world today,  since par­ents often are deterred from apply­ing for such nec­es­sary doc­u­men­ta­tion  because of high costs and com­pli­cat­ed bureau­crat­ic pro­ce­dures  imposed by pub­lic offices.  Sim­i­lar chal­lenges are faced by those migrants and refugees  who do not have access to their aca­d­e­m­ic diplo­mas  or cer­tifi­cates for pro­fes­sion­al or oth­er­wise spe­cial­ized skills train­ing.  The Vat­i­can’s 20 Points doc­u­ment toward  the Glob­al Com­pacts on Migrants and Refugees of 2018 encour­ages States,  “To adopt poli­cies that require the reg­is­tra­tion of all births,  pro­vid­ing each new­born with a birth cer­tifi­cate,  and to enact leg­is­la­tion that enables the recog­ni­tion trans­fer  and fur­ther devel­op­ment of the for­mal skills of all migrants,  asy­lum seek­ers and refugees in the host coun­try.  The Inter­na­tion­al Catholic Migra­tion Com­mis­sion, in fact,  is redou­bling its efforts to encour­age birth reg­is­tra­tion  by work­ing with local church inspired orga­ni­za­tions  in Burk­i­na Faso, Cen­tral African Repub­lic, Haiti and India  to train local parish vol­un­teers to accom­pa­ny par­ents  as they apply for birth cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for their children.

Root cause num­ber 3Fix­a­tion of busi­ness almost exclu­sive­ly on amass­ing more mon­ey and prof­it  eas­i­ly leads to the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and exploita­tion of peo­ple,  which in turn could result in vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty  of poor and mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple to human traf­fick­ing.  The 2021 Glob­al Esti­mates of the Inter­na­tion­al Labor Orga­ni­za­tion  indi­cate that 28 mil­lion were in forced labour.  It should be not­ed that com­pared to 2016 Glob­al Esti­mates  10 mil­lion more peo­ple are aware in mod­ern slav­ery.  Most forced labour occurs in the pri­vate econ­o­my,  86% of forced labour sit­u­a­tions are imposed by pri­vate actors,  63% in the pri­vate econ­o­my and sec­tors oth­er than com­mer­cial sex­u­al exploita­tion,  and 23% enforce com­mer­cial sex­u­al exploitation.

State-imposed forced labour  accounts for the remain­ing 14% of peo­ple in forced labour.  The Orga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nom­ic Coop­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment reports that  this type of labour is esti­mat­ed to gen­er­ate at least $150 bil­lion per year  of ille­gal prof­its in the pri­vate econ­o­my world­wide.  That’s cit­ed by the ILO.

Human traf­fick­ing occurs with the col­lu­sion of cor­rupt offi­cials,  with crim­i­nal gangs  address­ing human traf­fick­ing and cor­rup­tion joint­ly is more effec­tive  than address­ing these two issues indi­vid­u­al­ly.  Pope Fran­cis warns,  “There is a soci­o­log­i­cal fact, orga­nized crime  and the ille­gal traf­fick­ing of human beings choose their vic­tims  among peo­ple who today have lit­tle means of sub­sis­tence  and even less hope for the future.”  “To be clear­er,” he says,  “among the poor­est, among the most neglect­ed,  among the most discarded.”

For the past five years,  ICMC has coor­di­nat­ed a mul­ti­fac­eted research,  capac­i­ty build­ing, and advo­ca­cy project  in part­ner­ship with more than 30 Catholic-inspired orga­ni­za­tions  and the Inter­na­tion­al Labour Orga­ni­za­tion  on, “The Future of Work: labour after Lauda­to Sì,”  which through pri­ma­ry research and col­lec­tion of good prac­tice mod­els,  exam­ine ways to pre­vent exploita­tive, inde­cent, and cor­rupt labour prac­tices  that often are linked to abus­es of human traf­fick­ing,  cor­rup­tion, and exploita­tion of the most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple in soci­ety,  and iden­ti­fies good prac­tice mod­els  being employed in var­i­ous parts of the world.  ICMC also is sup­port­ing pro­grams of the local church­es in Côte d’Ivoire  to build skills, capac­i­ty, and to pro­mote entre­pre­neur­ship  among depor­tees who have been returned from Europe  but still are vul­ner­a­ble to traf­fick­ers and smug­glers,  and in Cen­tral African Repub­lic  to teach basic lit­er­a­cy and voca­tion­al skills  to return­ing child soldiers.

Root Cause Four: The Demand Side.  The Vat­i­can’s pas­toral ori­en­ta­tions on human traf­fick­ing points to,  “The dif­fer­ent areas in which the vic­tims of human traf­fick­ing work or oper­ate.  Agri­cul­ture, domes­tic work, pros­ti­tu­tion, etcetera,”  and points out that,  “Con­sumers con­sti­tute a huge mass  who seem large­ly unaware of the exploita­tion,  yet enjoy the ben­e­fits of the ser­vices pro­vid­ed by traf­ficked per­sons.”  In her 2023 report to the UN Human Rights Coun­cil,  UN Spe­cial Rap­por­teur on Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons,  Siob­hán Mul­lal­ly declared,  “Tak­ing seri­ous­ly the oblig­a­tions  con­cern­ing pre­ven­tion of traf­fick­ing in per­sons  require sys­temic and urgent law and pol­i­cy reforms  root­ed in inter­na­tion­al human rights law,  address­ing cli­mate change, envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion,  and the loss of biodiversity.”

Pope Fran­cis chal­lenges us to exam­ine our own con­sciences and behav­iour.  “Cer­tain­ly there is a lot of igno­rance on the top­ic of traf­fick­ing,  but some­times there are also seems to be a lit­tle will  to under­stand the scope of the issue.  Why?  Because it touch­es close to our own con­science.  Because it is thorny,  because it is shame­ful.  Then there are those who, even know­ing this,  do not want to speak  because they are at the end of the sup­ply chain  as a user of the ser­vices that are offered on the street or on the internet.”

ICMC works to pre­vent human traf­fick­ing  among the vul­ner­a­ble group of refugees and migrants in irreg­u­lar sit­u­a­tions  by pro­vid­ing job train­ing that leads to access to decent jobs  or to start­ing their own busi­ness­es,  and by main­tain­ing safe spaces for social­iza­tion and learn­ing  among women and child refugees  who are sur­vivors of sex­u­al and/or gen­der-based vio­lence.  In Malaysia,  where ICMC oper­ates a ser­vice for refugee sur­vivors of SGBV,  we have con­sti­tut­ed a refugee pro­tec­tion force  from with­in the refugee com­mu­ni­ties to serve as first respon­ders,  mon­i­tor safe­ty and progress of sur­vivors,  and to work to change harm­ful cul­tur­al prac­tices and atti­tudes  from with­in their own eth­nic communities.

I con­clude by cit­ing once again the words of Pope Fran­cis,  who has been such a dri­ving force for the church  and for all peo­ple of good­will,  to con­front the root caus­es of human traf­fick­ing  with per­sis­tence and deter­mi­na­tion  and with the grace of God to put the gospel into action.  “Let us not pre­tend and look the oth­er way.  There is greater com­plic­i­ty than we think.  These issues involve every­one.”  Thanks very much.

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