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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 105, December 2007



Migration and New Slaveries* 


Archbishop Agostino Marchetto

Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care

of Migrants and Itinerant People


The United Nation’s Secretary General’s Report on Migration and Development[1] in 2006 opens with an optimistic note: “Throughout human history, migration has been a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life. Today, globalization, together with advances in communications and transportation, has greatly increased the number of people who have the desire and the capacity to move to other places. This new era has created challenges and opportunities for societies throughout the world” (n. 1.). As I mentioned during the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Brussels (July 2007), “migrants contribute to their host country’s well-being, and also because of this their human dignity must be respected and their freedoms guaranteed: the right to a dignified life, to fair treatment at work, to have access to education, health and other social benefits, to grow in competence and develop humanly, to freely manifest their culture and practice their religion.”[2]

The UN Secretary General’s report, however, later acknowledges that migration has not always been only a positive experience: “The experience of migration has also evolved in some less positive ways. Migrants of both sexes are increasingly exposed to exploitation and abuse by smugglers and traffickers, sometimes losing their lives. Others find themselves trapped behind walls of discrimination, xenophobia and racism as the result of rising cultural and religious tensions in some societies” (n. 17). This is also stated by Erga migrantes caritas Christi[3] (no. 5), our Instruction approved by Pope John Paul II on 1st May 2004, which I invite you to know and promote.

To have an idea of the dimension of the migration phenomenon in the world[4] let us briefly examine some figures. The United Nations calculated that, in 2005, there were some 191 million international migrants in the world. Sixty percent of these presently live in developed countries, where women migrants outnumber the men, although male migrants are still more numerous than their female counterparts if the whole world is considered. Although the European continent hosts the largest number of international migrants (64 million), which comprises 8.8% of its population, one in every five of them lives in the United States of America. The proportion of international immigrants in other continents are as follow: 17 million in Africa (1.9% of its population); 53 million in Asia (1.4% of its population), 5 million in Oceania (15.2 % of its population); almost 7 million in Latin America and the Caribbean (2.9% of its population) and 44 million in North America (13.5% of its population).

Persons of concern to UNHCR[5], on the other hand, stood at around 32.9 million by the close of 2006. Of these, 9.9 million were refugees, 12.8 million were internally displaced persons receiving humanitarian assistance both under the cluster approach and other arrangements in which UNHCR was either the lead agency or a partner, and 5.8 million were stateless persons, which of course excludes those who are also refugees and asylum seekers. At the end of 2006, Africa received a fourth of all refugees in the world, followed by Europe (18%), then by the  Americas (10%), and lastly by Asia and the Pacific (9%). In Africa, there was an increase (some 10%) in the number of refugees, but this took place only in the East and Horn of Africa region, primarily accounted for by a new influx of refugees from Chad into the Sudan (20,000) accompanied by a revised estimate of Eritrean refugees into the aforementioned country (by some 40,000).

Another 4.2 million refugees were under UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East).

All these figures would ordinarily include those who have been counted in censuses or are registered in refugee camps. Most likely therefore, those who have no legal status or are not properly documented have escaped the estimate. This would mean that numbers are higher. This last group of undocumented people, living in an irregular situation, could indeed be very vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. Refugees confined to their camps have become victims as well. All this is an introduction to the question of new slaveries that I am going to discuss.

Trafficking in persons is defined by the United Nations[6] as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons”, by improper means such as threat, force or other forms of coercion, even abduction, fraud, deception, and the abuse of a position of power or vulnerability  “for the purpose of exploitation”. This includes prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or similar practices, servitude or even the removal of organs. The initial consent of the victim is irrelevant if the aforementioned means are subsequently used. For children to be considered victims of trafficking it is not necessary to have used the means listed above (cf. art. 3.b-c).

The entry into force of the Protocol on Trafficking, in December 2003, has posed important challenges both in terms of concepts as well as for law enforcement. It introduced into international law the concept of exploitation which was almost new. This is broadly divided into labour and sexual exploitation. Up to then anti-trafficking laws covered only the sexual exploitation of women and children.

New slavery, however, does not include only victims of trafficking. Rather, the latter are only a small portion of today’s modern slaves. In this year, during which we commemorate the Bicentenary of the Abolition of Slavery besetting our society, it is fitting to analyze modern slavery so that our societies, freed from past forms of slavery, may not fall, without lamenting, into other new and perhaps more disgusting ones.

Kevin Bales, author of Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy[7]  noted that slavery, defined as a condition in which people are forced to work “by violence and held against their wills for purposes of exploitation”, is not only present throughout the world but is in fact increasing. ILO’s latest global report on forced labour[8] estimated that people living in an enslaved condition number at least 12.3 million in the world. These estimates are not based on national estimates or field studies but on a method based on a large number of reported cases. Bales’ estimate, done with the help of researchers and representatives of human rights organizations, gave their number as about 27 million.

The ILO grouped situations of modern enslavement into three types: those imposed by the State, those imposed by private agents for commercial sexual exploitation, and those imposed by private agents for economic exploitation.

The first category includes “forced labour exacted by the military, compulsory participation in public works, and forced prison labour [not only in camps but also]… in modern semiprivatized or fully privatized prisons”. Then there is also forced labour imposed by rebel groups, which also involves the forced recruitment of soldiers, especially children.[9]  The United Nations Briefing Paper for Students[10] asserts that “the number of children under the age of 18 who have been coerced or induced to take up arms as child soldiers is generally thought to be in the range of 300,000”. In  non-governmental military organizations, most soldiers are under 15, while most child soldiers under 18 have been recruited into Governmental armed forces.

The second type comprises “women and men who have involuntarily entered prostitution or other forms of commercial sexual activities, or who have entered prostitution voluntarily but who cannot leave. It also includes all children who are forced into commercial sexual activities.”

Finally, the third category encompasses “all forced labour imposed by private agents other than for commercial sexual exploitation. It includes, among other things, bonded labour, forced domestic work, or forced labour in agriculture and remote rural areas.”

Examining the ILO figures, which is a minimum estimate, we can see that among our modern slaves, only some 2.4 millions are victims of human trafficking. Another 7.4 million are exploited by private agents while 2.5 million are subjected to forced labour by the State or military groups. Figures show that forced labour under the responsibility of the State or armed forces accounts for about 20 per cent of all modern slaves. Of the remaining 9.8 millions, 1.4 million (11%) are exploited in commercial sex (both among victims of trafficking and not) and 7.8 million (an overwhelming 63%) are enslaved for economic reasons.

Looking at the regional distribution of forced labour, it can be noted that numbers are highest in Asia and the Pacific (9,490,000), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (1,320,000), with the Sub-Saharan Africa (660,000) trailing behind. In these regions, the numbers reflect the survival and often the transformation of traditional forms of slavery and servitude. The ILO[11] reported that “outright slavery, though increasingly rare in the modern world, is still found in a handful of countries, and the wholesale abduction of individuals and communities [for forced labour purposes] in such conflict-torn societies as Liberia, Mauritania, Sierra Leone and Sudan is not uncommon. The forced recruitment of children for armed conflict, deemed one of the worst forms of child labour, is also on the rise.” The same source stated that debt-bondage and slavery-like practices are widespread “on the agricultural plantations of such West Africa countries as Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali and Togo as well as on sugar cane plantations of the Dominican Republic and Haiti”. India, Nepal and Pakistan are well-known for their history of bonded labour. Indigenous peoples, like the Pygmies in Africa, are particularly vulnerable to coercive recruitment leading to this form of modern slavery on agricultural plantations and in domestic work. In these areas in general, forced labour is imposed for economic exploitation, and only a small portion is to exploit commercial sex.

However, forced labour is also present in industrialized countries (360,000), as well as in the Middle East and North Africa (260,000) and in the transition countries (210,000). In these areas the forms of new human slavery that abound are linked to globalization, migration, and human trafficking. In Europe, particularly, trafficking has exploded since the break-up of the former Soviet Union, and Europe and North America have become locations of large-scale sweatshop activities involving migrants in an irregular situation. Trafficking in women is rising in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Also Israel and the United States are destination countries for trafficked women and children each year.

While the characteristics of forced labour in the Middle East and North Africa are similar to those in other developing countries, with state-imposed forced labour even to a lower extent (3% as opposed to 20% in the former group), the trend in industrialized and transition countries are somewhat different. The dominant form of forced labour is for commercial sexual exploitation. It is however noteworthy that even in industrialized countries, where commercial sex brings in large profits, almost a fourth (23%) of modern slaves are forced to work in non-sexual economic exploitation.

As mentioned earlier, of all forced labour only about 20% is a result of trafficking[12], for a total count of 2,450,000 persons. Their regional distribution is as follows: Asia and Pacific – 1,360,000; Industrialized countries – 270,000; Latin America and Caribbean – 250,000; Middle East and North Africa – 230,000; Transition countries – 200,000; Sub-Saharan Africa – 130,0000. The trend is not the same for all regions. In Asia, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of trafficked victims engaged in forced labour is less than 20%. However, in industrialized countries, transition countries and the Middle East and North Africa, more than 75% of forced labour is carried out by victims of human trafficking. The relatively low numbers for Africa and transition countries does not mean that there is a low degree of trafficking in those areas. This is only because the victims of trafficking are counted in the countries where they are found and not in their countries of origin.

A little less than half of all trafficking (43%) is intended for commercial sexual exploitation, and almost a third (32%) is for economic exploitation. A good fourth (25%) is for mixed or undetermined reasons, and we know that the extraction of organs is also among the aims of trafficking. The kind of labour engaged in by victims of trafficking varies according to geography. Trafficking for economic exploitation ranges from about a fourth of all trafficking in industrialized countries to some 90% in the Middle East and North Africa.

Who are the victims of forced labour? More than half (56%) of those trapped in economic exploitation are women and girls, however men and boys account for just a little less than half (44%). In forced commercial sexual exploitation, instead, women and girls constitute almost the totality (98%). Among all the victims, children are estimated to constitute between 40 to 50 %.

There are many true and documented stories of abuse and violence experienced by those who have been trapped in forced labour. It would be too long to narrate them at this point, however you surely know at least some of them. 

* * * 

Forced labour, as defined above, calls into question not only labour rights of the persons concerned, but indeed violates the individual’s human dignity and rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Articles 3, 4 and 5 clearly states this[13].

Since the 1920s, International Bodies have taken steps to respond to the problem of forced labour. In 1930, as an outcome of the work undertaken at the request of the League of Nations, the ILO adopted the Forced Labour Convention (No. 29) of 1930, which called for the suppression of “the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms within the shortest possible period” (art. 1,1).

With the persistence of some forms of forced labour in the 1950s, the United Nations drew up the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery in 1956, which aimed to “bring about progressively and as soon as possible the complete abolition or abandonment” of institutions and practices such as debt bondage, serfdom, marriage on payment in money or in kind [referring especially to Africa], delivering a child or young person to another person so that he or his labour may be exploited.

On its part ILO came up with its Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour, in 1957. This meant “to suppress and not to make use of any form of forced or compulsory labour” as a means of political coercion or education or as a punishment, as a means of economic development or labour discipline, or for racial, social, national or religious discrimination.

As has already been mentioned ILO drew up two global reports on this issue, in 2001 and in 2005, to raise awareness on this appalling matter of concern unworthy of our 21st-century society. 

In any case, the type of forced labour that has caught most attention among national governments and international agencies is trafficking in human beings. Besides the UN Conventions and Protocols against Trafficking, the Centre for the International Crime Prevention (CICP) and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), emphasizing the importance of law-enforcement, have jointly come up with the Global Programme against Trafficking in Human Beings.

A very fresh news in this regard is the imminent coming into force of the Council of Europe’s “Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings”: on 1st February 2008. Last October 24th , Cyprus deposited the tenth ratification of the Convention, the minimum number required for it to enter into force. The document, among other things, calls for stricter border controls and more efficient checking of documents, also on the part of operators in means of transport. There are good provisions for the protection of victims. 

The Campaign to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, launched by the Council of Europe in 2006, worked hard for the signing and ratification of the aforementioned Convention. The Campaign aims to raise awareness of the extent of the problem in Europe today. It also suggests different measures that can be taken to prevent this new form of slavery, to protect the victims’ human rights and also to take legal action against traffickers.

Another important step is the decision taken by the United Nations Human Rights Council, during its session on 28 September 2007, to appoint “a Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences” since it is “convinced that the mandates of existing Special Rapporteurs do not adequately cover all slavery practices”.    

A Franciscan friar, Fr. Joseph Legounou, who died a year ago, had spoken at UN gatherings about the present forms of “slavery” in Western Africa, and particularly in his native land, Togo. He was an exponent of Franciscans International, an NGO with a consultative status at the United Nations. 


The Church has not been indifferent to, or silent regarding modern forms of slavery. In his Message[14] addressed to then Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, on 15 May 2002, for instance, on the occasion of the International Conference on "Twenty-first Century Slavery - the Human Rights Dimension to Trafficking in Human Beings", Pope John Paul II defined “trade in human persons … [as] a shocking offence against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights”. It is “an affront to fundamental values which are shared by all cultures and peoples, values rooted in the very nature of the human person”. In any case, long before that, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, in its Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (no. 27), condemned such practices: “Whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonour to the Creator.” I invite you to read the whole Pope John Paul II’s Message[15], which has important political, juridical, economic and ethical repercussions and calls for a deeper examination of the causes of the “increased ‘demand’ which fuels the market for human slavery and tolerates the human cost which results” from it.

Our Pontifical Council’s Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi[16] also refers to the trafficking of human beings as “a new chapter in the history of slavery” (no. 5), and points out, among other things, a juridical solution. It in fact recognizes the link between trafficking and migration and therefore encourages “the ratification of the international legal instruments that ensure the rights of migrants, refugees and their families” (no. 6), particularly of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and the Members of their Families, which entered into force on 1 July 2003. This Convention “offers a compendium of rights” (ibid.) to migrants and indeed protects those who are in an irregular situation, including those who are victims of human trafficking. However, to give a concrete contribution, the Church has to offer “its advocacy, which is more and more necessary today, through its various competent institutions and associations (as centres for migrant needs, houses open to them, offices for necessary services, documentation and counselling, etc.)” (ibid.). May I encourage here a worthy and correct reception of this Document on the part of the local Churches in Africa and Europe?

There were Bishops Conferences that published a pastoral letter expressing concern over trafficking[17]. Our Pontifical Council itself openly condemned the phenomenon, for instance, on the occasion of the VI World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Tourism[18], organized by our Dicastery in Bangkok, Thailand in 2004. The gathering in fact made recommendations and appeals precisely against sex tourism. Moreover, in our recently published “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road” (June, 2007), modern slavery and the relationship between migration, trafficking of human beings and human rights are considered (nos. 88-92). In nos. 97-115, the tasks that the Church is called to undertake in this regard are illustrated. No. 97 reads: “The Church has a pastoral responsibility to defend and promote the human dignity of persons exploited by prostitution and to advocate for their liberation, even to providing economic, educational and formational support for this purpose.” The Document calls for solidarity on the part of Christian communities and religious congregations, ecclesial movements, new communities, and Catholic institutions and associations in order to fight this plague in society and come to the aid of the victims. It also calls for a development of skills and strategies aimed at combating prostitution and trafficking in human beings. It also affirms that “ecclesial action to liberate street women … should involve both men and women and place human rights at the centre of all strategies” (no. 102). 

The Church is involved in assisting victims of trafficking in many different countries, by being present among them, listening to them, providing aid, giving support to escape from sexual violence, creating safe houses, helping them integrate into their host society or to return to their home country in a sustainable way. In countries where violent conflict is raging (like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Liberia), it has reached out to former child soldiers. Activities are undertaken for their socio-economic integration into society, but also to heal the wounds of these former combatants and their receiving family and/or community. This year, “Caritas”-Italy in collaboration with the Commission for Justice and Peace and Human Rights of the Diocese of Makeni in Sierra Leone renewed its commitment to a project called “Capacity Building of Civil Society on Good Governance and Human Rights”[19]. For three years now, this project has worked for the rehabilitation of “child soldiers” and some 70% of these have been reinstated into their families.

The Section on the “Pastoral Care of Street Children”, of the “Guidelines” I mentioned earlier, speaks of the “suffering of countless children who fall victim to intolerable exploitation and violence, not just as a result of the evil perpetrated by individuals but, often, as a direct consequence of corrupt social structures” (no. 116). It also speaks of the need for a new evangelization among these children because “only an encounter with the Risen Christ can give back the joy of the resurrection to those living in death. Only the encounter with Him who came to dress the wounds of broken hearts (cf. Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19) may bring about deep healing of the devastating injuries of being traumatised and petrified by too many frustrations and too much violence endured” (no. 132). On this issue, our Pontifical Council organized the First International Meeting for the Pastoral Care of Street Children in October 2004[20].

The Church is also involved in promoting activities of prevention or awareness building as can be seen in many initiatives taken by Congregations of women religious. National Conferences of Major Women Religious Superiors in various countries have mobilized their members to get organized and network with their fellow women religious in other countries (of origin, transit or destination of victims of human trafficking) and with international organizations, both governmental and non, that are active in this field. Congregations of men religious are also invited to give their contribution. Some Bishops Conferences give high priority to this question in formulating their pastoral plan, including programs of cooperation with other Churches and Ecclesial Communities.

Last October, the Italian Union of Major Religious Superiors (USMI), jointly with the Embassy of the United States of America to the Holy See, sponsored a Formation Seminar on the theme “Creating a network: the prophetic role of women religious in the struggle against trafficking of human beings”, in Rome. I myself presided over the closing Holy Mass in St. Peter’s. This, too, was held to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. On this occasion, the International Network of Religious Against Trafficking in Persons (INRATIP) was instituted. Its purpose is to assist victims of the exploitation of human beings and to work against traffickers. An important point is the welcome of the women of the street back into their country of origin. It is necessary to create some structures in this regard, like the one recently inaugurated in Nigeria with the help of the Italian Episcopal Conference.

An older network is COATNET[21], an international network of Christian organisations against trafficking in women, created in 2002. It was initiated by Caritas organizations in Europe in cooperation with Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME). At present it is composed of Christian organizations in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. It is based on national anti-trafficking networks in these countries. Its member organizations implement prevention and awareness raising activities in countries of origin, transit and destination, assist trafficked women and support their re-integration. They also engage in advocacy work and networking in their countries.  

Other initiatives include SOLWOLDI (Solidarity with Women in Distress), initiated in 1985 in Kenya and Germany; the Dutch Foundation of the Religious against Trafficking in Women instituted in 1991; and the Committee for the Support of the Dignity of Women in Nigeria set up in 2001 by the Nigerian Conference of Women Religious.

For a more detailed description of the role of the Church and the action that can be taken in relationship to this, I suggest that you refer to the Final Document of the First International Meeting on the Pastoral Care for the Liberation of the Women of the Street[22], organized by our Dicastery in Rome, from 20 to 21 June 2005. 


However, we must not forget that the root cause of this horrendous phenomenon of the new forms of slavery is above all the enormous economic gap between rich and poor countries, and between he rich and the poor within the same country. Indeed, this urges a lot of people to leave their native land in one way or another to look for better opportunities abroad. Erga migrantes caritas Christi affirms that “migration raises a truly ethical question: the search for a new international economic order for a more equitable distribution of the goods of the earth. This would make a real contribution to reducing and checking the flow of a large number of migrants from populations in difficulty” (no. 8). The document also reiterates the right of persons “not to emigrate …, that is, the right to be able to achieve his rights and satisfy his legitimate demands in his own country” (no. 29). It calls to mind that “the Magisterium has likewise always denounced social and economic imbalances that are, for the most part, the cause of migration, the dangers of an uncontrolled globalisation in which migrants are more the victims than the protagonists of their migration, and the serious problem of irregular immigration, especially when the migrant is an object of trafficking and exploitation by criminal organisations” (ibid.). Hence, Erga migrantes caritas Christi insists on the “the need for a more effective commitment to educational and pastoral systems that form people in a ‘global dimension’, that is, a new vision of the world community, considered as a family of peoples, for whom the goods of the earth are ultimately destined when things are seen from the perspective of the universal common good” (no. 8). 

The Church therefore fights against the modern forms of slavery, through its convictions, teachings and actions, inspired by the Gospel of love and compassion of our Lord and the dignity of every human person, using the means it has at its disposal, in conformity with its nature and mission. Meanwhile everyone is invited to respond to the call sounded by the Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi to “promote an authentic culture of welcome” (no. 39) and, for Christians, to heed St Paul’s recommendation, “Welcome one another then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rm 15:7) (no. 40). Furthermore, our document makes an appeal to “the entire Church in the host country …[to] feel concerned and engaged regarding immigrants” and to find “suitable means … to create in the Christian conscience a sense of welcome, especially for the poorest and outcasts as migrants often are”, a welcome that “is fully based on love for Christ” (no. 41). This needs to be done in the certainty that good done out of love of God to one’s neighbour, especially the most needy, is done to Christ himself (ibid.).  

Regarding this specific pastoral care of human mobility, I will leave you a “Memorandum” which facilitates its reception as a complement of the ordinary, territorial parochial pastoral care.

Allow me to conclude with the words Pope John Paul II, pronounced on 22 February 1992, in the Island of Gorée, in Senegal, stage of the atrocious slave trade of many centuries ago. (I believe we still remember his photo taken as he leant on the doorpost of the “Maison des Esclaves”, looking at the immensity of the ocean and the immensity of human suffering.) These are his words:

“Those men, those women and those children were victims of a shameful trade… How can we forget the enormous sufferings inflicted on the populations deported from the African continent, despising their most elementary human rights? How can we forget the human lives annihilated by slavery? It is necessary to confess, in all truth and humility, this sin of man against man, this sin of man against God… Let us pray so that the scourge of slavery may disappear forever, as well as its consequences… At the same time let us oppose ourselves to the new forms of slavery, which are often insidious, like organized prostitution that shamefully exploits the poverty of the populations of the Third World... Let us pray so that violence and injustice among people may stop, so that no new pits of hatred and revenge may be excavated, but so that there will be an increase in respect, understanding and friendship among all peoples.”



Aujourd’hui, le développement des transports a beaucoup accru le nombre de personnes ayant le désir et la possibilité de se rendre dans d’autres lieux. Cette nouvelle ère a comporté des défis et des opportunités pour la société. Tandis que les migrations peuvent apporter de nombreux bénéfices économiques, en particulier pour les pays d’accueil, ainsi qu’un niveau de vie supérieur en ce qui concerne la santé, l’éducation et le logement,  pour certaines personnes, il ne s’agit pas toujours d’une expérience positive. Les migrants des deux sexes sont de plus en plus exposés au risque d’exploitation et d’abus de la part des passeurs et des trafiquants, parfois au prix de leur vie. D’autres peuvent être pris au piège d’une culture xénophobe et raciste.  

Les migrations se sont accrues de manière phénoménale dans la deuxième partie du siècle dernier. En 2005, on comptait 191 millions de migrants internationaux partout dans le monde. La plus grande partie d’entre eux se trouvent en Europe et aux Etats-Unis. Ils sont suivis de près par l’Asie et l’Afrique. La situation de 32,9 millions d’entre eux était considérée comme « préoccupante » par  le HCNUR, la majorité étant des réfugiés et des personnes déplacées au sein de leur pays. Tandis que ces statistiques se réfèrent aux personnes qui ont été recensées, il est probable que le nombre réel est considérablement supérieur. C’est au sein de ce groupe anonyme, qui ne fait l’objet d’aucun recensement, et qui vit en  situation irrégulière, qu’ont lieu un grand nombre des nouvelles formes d’esclavage, caractérisées, entre autres,  par la traite de personnes et l’exploitation. 

La définition de l’esclavage a connu de nombreux changements au cours des deux siècles qui ont suivi son abolition officielle. Aujourd’hui, elle inclut non seulement la traite de personnes, mais également, depuis 2003, l’important concept d’exploitation. Le dernier rapport du BIT sur le travail forcé estime que de nos jours, 12,3 millions de personnes vivent dans des conditions d’asservissement. Le BIT divise actuellement les situations d’esclavage moderne en trois groupes : celles imposées par l’Etat, celles imposées par des agents privés à des fins d’exploitation sexuelle commerciale, et celles imposées par des agents privés à des fins d’exploitation économique. Ces groupes agissent dans le monde entier, bien qu’à des degrés différents, l’Asie et le Pacifique étant les régions principales, suivies par l’Amérique latine, les Caraïbes et l’Afrique sub-saharienne. Dans les pays industrialisés, cette nouvelle forme d’esclavage est étroitement liée à la mondialisation, la migration et la traite d’êtres humains. 

Un peu moins de la moitié de toute la traite de personnes est destinée à l’exploitation commerciale, et presque un tiers à l’exploitation économique. Au moins un quart répond à des motifs multiples ou indéterminés.  Plus de la moitié des personnes prises au piège de l’exploitation économique sont des femmes et des jeunes filles, bien que celles-ci constituent presque la totalité des personnes soumises à l’exploitation sexuelle. On estime que les enfants représentent presque la moitié de toutes les victimes.  

Tout cela remet en question non seulement les droits du travail, mais également les droits humains et la dignité qui en découle.  Depuis les années 20, des efforts concertés ont eu lieu afin d’affronter ce problème, non seulement en sensibilisant les consciences, mais également en répondant de façon concrète à travers des actions et des législations. La dernière en date, très attendue, sera la «Convention sur la lutte contre la traite des êtres humains » du Conseil de l’Europe, en février 2008.

L’Eglise n’a jamais  été indifférente ni silencieuse face à la situation des formes modernes d’esclavage. Le Conseil œcuménique Vatican II, dans  sa Constitution pastorale Gaudium et Spes, condamne clairement cette pratique. Le Pape Jean-Paul II a fait écho à ces sentiments en affirmant que la traite d’êtres humains constituait « un outrage à la dignité humaine et une grave violation des droits humains fondamentaux ». L’instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi, du Conseil pontifical,  s’exprime également de façon tout à fait claire à ce sujet.  Elle affirme non seulement que nous assistons à un nouveau chapitre de l’esclavage humain, mais elle offre également une solution juridique. Elle nous rappelle également que l’Eglise doit elle aussi offrir des formes de défense des droits. Parmi les diverses réponses ecclésiales, figure l’action menée par les différentes Conférences épiscopales, telles que celles aux Etats-Unis, au Mexique et aux Philippines. Un autre événement ecclésial important a été le VIe Congrès mondial sur la Pastorale du Tourisme, qui a eu lieu en Thaïlande en 2004, à l’occasion duquel  le Conseil pontifical a condamné à nouveau ouvertement la traite de toutes les personnes humaines, en particulier celle liée au tourisme sexuel. 

Parmi les publications les plus récentes figurent les « Orientations pour la Pastorale de la Route - Rue», publiées par le Conseil pontifical en juin 2007.  Celles-ci étudient la relation entre les formes modernes d’esclavage et la migration, le trafic d’êtres humains et les droits humains.  Le document lance également un appel aux communautés, mouvements et institutions chrétiennes afin de lutter contre cette plaie de notre société. Le document traite également de façon spécifique de la « Pastorale pour les Enfants de la rue », en particulier ceux impliqués dans des formes d’exploitation, de violence et de prostitution, en dénonçant  non seulement les maux perpétrés par les individus, mais également par les structures sociales corrompues. Il envisage une nouvelle évangélisation parmi ces enfants, afin de leur redonner un peu de  joie de la résurrection. En réponse à  ce besoin urgent, le Conseil pontifical a tenu le Premier Congrès international de la Pastorale pour les enfants de la rue, en 2004. L’Eglise a également encouragé et mobilisé de nombreuses Congrégations religieuses, en particulier féminines, afin de tisser un réseau de relations  tant dans les pays d’origine que dans les pays de transit ou de destination d’un grand nombre des personnes victimes de la traite  d’êtres humains.  Ces initiatives ont donné naissance à des organisations telles que le « International Network of Religious Against Trafficking in Persons » (INRATIP), un Réseau international de religieuses contre la traite des personnes, institué en  2007.     

Enfin, il est important de ne pas oublier que la cause originale de cet effroyable phénomène est l’écart entre les pays riches et les pays pauvres et entre les personnes riches et les personnes pauvres elles-mêmes. Ces questions éthiques sont également abordées dans l’Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi. Ainsi, l’Eglise manifeste clairement sa lutte  contre toute forme d’esclavage moderne, à travers ses convictions, ses enseignements et ses actions, inspirées par l’Evangile de l’amour et de la compassion du Seigneur, ainsi que par la dignité de chaque personne humaine. 




Hoy día, gracias a los medios de transporte, han aumentado mucho las personas que tienen el deseo y la capacidad de trasladarse a otros lugares. Esta nueva era ha ofrecido nuevos desafíos y oportunidades a la sociedad. Si es cierto que la migración puede aportar beneficios económicos, especialmente para el país receptor, además de una vida mejor en materia de salud, educación y vivienda, es posible, sin embargo, que no siempre sea, para algunos, una experiencia positiva. Los migrantes, hombres y mujeres, se ven siempre más expuestos a la explotación y al abuso de los contrabandistas y de los traficantes, incluso a costa de la vida. Otros se pueden hallar atrapados en una cultura de xenofobia y racismo.

La migración ha aumentado de un modo fenomenal en los últimos años del siglo pasado. En 2005, había 191 millones de migrantes internacionales en todo el mundo. La mayoría están en Europa y en los Estados Unidos de América. Siguen de cerca Asia y África. De estos, 32,9 millones son considerados ‘de cuidado’ por el ACNUR, siendo la mayoría refugiados y desplazados en su propio país. Estas cifras se refieren a los documentados, por consiguiente el número debería ser mucho más elevado. En este grupo anónimo de indocumentados, que viven en situaciones irregulares, se perpetran muchas de las nuevas esclavitudes, caracterizadas por el tráfico y la explotación, aunque no exclusivamente.

La definición de esclavitud ha tenido muchos cambios en los últimos doscientos años, desde su abolición oficial. Ahora no sólo incluye el tráfico, sino, desde 2003, también el importante concepto de explotación. El último informe de la OIT sobre el trabajo forzoso estima que 12,3 millones de personas viven en alguna forma de esclavitud, y distingue tres tipos: la que impone el Estado; la que imponen los agentes privados de la explotación sexual y la que impone los agentes privados de la explotación económica. Estos tres grupos se presentan a nivel global, aunque en distintos grados. Ante todo, en Asia y el Pacífico; siguen América Latina, el Caribe y la región subsahariana de África. En los países indutrializados, esta nueva esclavitud humana está relacionada estrechamente con la globalización, la migración y el tráfico humano.

Un poco menos de la mitad de todo ese tráfico es una explotación comercial, y, aproximadamente un tercio, económica. Un cuarto se lleva a cabo por distintos motivos o por motivos indefinidos. Más de la mitad de las personas implicadas en la explotación económica son mujeres y jovencitas, aunque constituyen casi la totalidad en la explotación sexual. Entre las víctimas, se calcula que los niños constituyen aproximadamente la mitad.

Todo esto pone en tela de juicio tanto el derecho al trabajo como los derechos humanos y la dignidad que de ellos se desprende. Desde los años 1920, se han realizado esfuerzos concertados para afrontar el problema, no sólo para aumentar la conciencia, sino también para responder concretamente, a través de la acción y de la legislación. Se está esperando con entusiasmo la “Convención sobre la acción contra el Tráfico de Seres Humanos” del Consejo de Europa, en febrero de 2008.

La Iglesia no ha permanecido indiferente o en silencio respecto a la situación de las nuevas formas de esclavitud. El Concilio Vaticano II, en la Constitución Pastoral Gaudium et spes es muy clara en su condena a esta práctica. El Papa Juan Pablo II se hizo eco de estos sentimientos cuando afirmó que el tráfico de seres humanos era una ofensa contra la dignidad humana y una grave violación de los derechos humanos fundamentales. La Instrucción Erga migrantes caritas Christi, del Pontificio Consejo, no deja de pronunciarse en todo sentido al respecto. No sólo lamenta que hemos entrado en un nuevo capítulo de la esclavitud humana, sino ofrece una solución jurídica. Nos recuerda también que la Iglesia debe ofrecer nuevas formas de apoyo. Entre las distintas respuestas, por parte de la Iglesia, están las acciones emprendidas por varias Conferencias Episcopales, como las de Estados Unidos, México y Filipinas. Otro acontecimiento eclesial importante fue el VI Congreso Mundial de Pastoral del Turismo, celebrado en Tailandia en 2004, cuando el Pontificio Consejo condenó de nuevo públicamente el tráfico de seres humanos, especialmente con el turismo sexual.

Una publicación más reciente del Pontificio Consejo, de junio, 2007, han sido las “Orientaciones para la Pastoral de la Carretera”, donde se examina la relación entre la moderna esclavitud y la migración, el tráfico de seres humanos y los derechos humanos. El documento solicita a las comunidades cristianas, movimientos e instituciones, que luchen contra esa plaga de nuestra sociedad. Y trata igualmente de la “Pastoral para los Niños de la Calle”, especialmente aquellos que se ve implicados en formas de explotación, violencia y prostitución, refiriéndose no sólo a los males perpetrados por los individuos, sino también por estructuras sociales carentes. Contempla una nueva evangelización para estos niños, con el objeto de devolverles algo de la alegría de la resurrección. Para responder a esta gran necesidad, el Pontificio Consejo acogió el Primer Encuentro Internacional para la Pastoral de los Niños de la Calle, en 2004. La Iglesia ha animado y movilizado varias congregaciones religiosas, especialmente femeninas, para que realicen un trabajo en red en los países de origen, de tránsito y de destino de muchos de los que han caído en la trampa del tráfico humano. De estas iniciativas, han surgido organizaciones como la Red Internacional de Religiosas contra el Tráfico de Personas (INRATIP), creada en 2007.

Por último, es importante no olvidar que la causa fundamental de este horrible fenómeno es el desequilibrio económico entre los países ricos y los países pobres, y entre los ricos y los pobres mismos. Estas cuestiones de orden ético están tratadas también en la Instrucción Erga migrantes caritas Christi. La Iglesia, por consiguiente, es muy clara en su lucha contra todas las formas de nueva esclavitud, a través de sus convicciones, enseñanzas y acciones, inspiradas en el Evangelio del amor y compasión del Señor, y en la dignidad de toda persona humana.


* On the occasion of CCEE-SECAM SEMINAR (Cape Coast, Ghana, 13-18 November 2007).


[2] The complete text of my statement can be found in L’Osservatore Romano, English ed., No. 35 (2008), 29 August 2007, p. 11.

[3] In Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. XCVI, No. 11 (3 November 2004), pp. 762-822 and People on the Move, Vol. XXXVI, No. 95 (August 2004); migrants_doc_20040514_erga-migrantes-caritas-christi_en.html. For commentaries, see People on the Move, Vol. XXXVI, No. 98 (August 2005); “La Sollecitudine della Chiesa verso i Migranti”, Quaderni Universitari, I Parte, Vatican City, 2005; “Migranti e Pastorale d’Accoglienza”, Quaderni Universitari, II Parte, Vatican City, 2006; “Operatori di una Pastorale di Comunione”, Quaderni Universitari, III Parte, Vatican City, 2007.

[4] For a more comprehensive discussion of migration flows worldwide, although using older data, see Agostino Marchetto, Flows of Human Mobility Worldwide: Consequences and Expectations: People on the Move, Vol. XXV, No. 91-92 (April-August 2003), pp. 45-66.

[5] UNHCR Online Statistical Center identify persons of concern to UNHCR as seven different groups of persons namely (a) refugees, excluding those residing in areas of operation of the UNRWA; (b) asylum-seekers; (c) internally displaced persons (IDPs) protected/assisted by UNHCR; (d) refugees who have returned to their countries of origin (returned refugees); (e) IDPs who have returned home (returned IDPs); (f) stateless persons; and (g) a category of other persons of concern who do not belong to any of the aforementioned categories but to whom UNHCR extends protection and /or assistance.

[6] Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, art. 3.a.

[7] University of California Press, Berkeley, 1999.

[8] ILO, A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour, Geneva 2005.

[9] See Giulio Albanese, Soldatini di piombo, Milano 2005.


[11] World of Work, No. 39, June 2001.

[12] ILO, op. cit., n. 57.

[13] Following are the articles spelled out: Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person; Article 4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms; Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

[14] 20020515_tauran_en.html

[15] ibid.

[16] loc. cit.

[17] For example, the Bishops Conferences of the Philippines (1979); United States and Mexico (jointly in 2003) and Canada (2006).

[18] in People on the Move, Vol. XXXVI, No. 96 Supplement (December 2004).

[19] cf. L’Osservatore Romano, 2-3 November 2007.

[20] The Proceedings are published in People on the Move, Vol. XXXVII, No. 98 Suppl. (August 2005).

[21] cf.

[22] published in People on the Move, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 102 Suppl. (December 2006), pp. 95-105.