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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 109 (Suppl.), April 2009



a burning issue:

Migration and New Slaveries




Rev. Msgr. Novatus Rugambwa

Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council

for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People



May I start this talk about migration and new slaveries with a story about a girl called Charlotte: When she was five years old armed rebels entered her village, burnt down houses and she and her parents were ordered to stand in front of their burning house.

Then the rebels killed her parents. Charlotte had to step over their bodies and was taken to the forest. The rebels threatened to kill her if she tried to escape. She was forced to join them. Being very young, she was handed over to the wife of the rebels’ leader and she became her maid.

Four or five years later, Charlotte also learnt how to use a gun, how to shoot. She and many others were forced to use great deal of violence during their military operations. What happened during their expeditions was so terrible that she does not want to tell anything about it. Sometimes she sees faces in the night. During the fighting she did not fear anybody, after all she was protected. She stayed for nine years with the rebels. Then the war was over.

At 18 years of age, Charlotte could neither read nor write and had a child of four. She had no place to go because she could neither determine from which village she originated nor anything about her extended family. Yet, she hoped that there would be a future for her life. 

*          *          * 

Such life stories are told in many countries in Africa with regard to children forced to take up casual agricultural jobs or those working in exploitative labour, such as stone digging; children working excessively long hours, sometimes with dangerous and life threateing equipments, and often enduring beatings and other maltreatment by overseers; women doing cheap labour in a restaurant, or being forced into the sex industry; or child soldiers like Charlotte: etc. 

A common denominator

What do these children, young men and women have in common? The answer is not difficult to find: all of them are the victims of those who are using them. They are forced to do certain things against their will, they cannot decide about their lives, and they are exploited. In short they are trafficked. They end up in situations from which it is difficult to escape.

Nowadays, this phenomenon is also called modern slavery. However, there is a difference between this and the old form of slavery. While old slavery was linked to ownership over another human person, modern slavery is related mainly to exploitation and total deprivation of another person’s control over his/her own life.

Various industries are unfortunately profiting from this way of employment. This phenomenon is widespread, worldwide and Africa is not excluded. According to the statistics published by the International Labour Organization (ILO)1 in 2005, about 12.3 million people were in one or another form of forced labour, of which 660,000 in Africa south of the Sahara and 260,000 in the Middle East and North Africa. They further state that “in sub-Saharan Africa too, the bulk of forced labour is for economic exploitation (80 per cent), followed by state-imposed forced labour (11 per cent) and forced labour for commercial sexual exploitation (8 per cent)”.2

A gender balanced attitude against women and girls favours an attitude towards trafficking for sexual exploitation. There is evidence to suggest that children represent a much higher proportion of forced labourers in Africa3 than in other parts of the world.

 Furthermore one has to note that the number of child soldiers in Africa is estimated at 100,000 in armed forces of armed groups, one third of the number worldwide.4 Approximately half of all children associated with these groups are girls. Charlotte was one of them! One can recall their deployment in Guinea, the Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Indeed, trafficking is a multi-dimensional problem, very often linked to international migration, but not necessarily. It includes, among others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or slavery-like practices, and the recruitment of minors in armies or rebel groups. It can be approached from different angles: legal, human rights, gender, development, economic, migration, or cultural. Each approach suggests different strategies to solve the problem. 

Description of the term “Trafficking in human beings”

Let us examine some key elements concerning trafficking in human beings:

(1)       It is an action: the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons.

(2)       by means of: threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or position of vulnerability, giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve consent of a person having control over another.

(3)       for the purpose of exploitation: e.g., the exploitation of the prostitution of others, or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or slavery-like practices, servitude, removal of organs. 

Root causes of trafficking

They are quite different and diverse. One of the most obvious is poverty or lack of economic opportunities.14 People want to have a decent life and are prepared to take risks. They would like to realize their dreams and believe easily what is told to them. Traffickers exploit these expectations. This poverty affects individual families but also reflects the unequal opportunities of different countries.

 In addition trafficking in Africa has also become linked to certain, in the past accepted and good functioning, social and cultural practices. Children would go and stay with a relative or somebody known to the family15. They would assist in the household, but were also taken care of. This was also true for education. Nowadays, this practice has been used to obtain children in order to exploit them. Parents, often in good faith, ask their child to stay with somebody else. Societies where law and order breaks down, such as societies affected by conflict, are also sensitive to trafficking.

So anti-trafficking initiatives should also aim to develop and offer real prospects of escaping the cycle of poverty, abuse and exploitation.16 

Legislation to fight trafficking in human beings

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Human beings, especially Women and Children, (2000) which supplements the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime is undoubtedly the legislation which most people referred to over the last years. However, other legislation also exists, sometimes already for some considerable time before this Convention and its Protocol. One could refer to the Forced Labour Convention of 1930, or the ILO Convention No.182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999). In addition solutions for specific situations also came into existence.

With regard to child soldiers one could apply the Convention of the Rights of the Child5 (1989), its Optional Protocol6, (2000) and the Paris Principles7. These Principles underscore the humanitarian imperative to seek the unconditional release of children from armed forces or armed groups at all times, even in the midst of conflict and for the duration of the conflict.

In the African context, one could refer to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa8, which entered into force on 25 November 2005; the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child9, which entered into force November 29, 1999.  

Anti-trafficking Regional legal instruments in Africa

On the regional level, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) started its first Plan of Action on the fight against illegal Trafficking in Persons in 2002. Their latest three-year Plan of Action (2006-2009) concentrates on the protection and support to victims of trafficking in persons, prevention and awareness-raising strategies, and the collection, exchange and analysis of information drawn up.

In July 2005, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Niger, Mali, Nigeria and Benin signed a multilateral agreement on child trafficking10 in West Africa, while also Memoranda of Understanding have been signed between different governments.

Collaboration between African States and the European Union led to the development of the “The Ouagadougou Action Plan” in 2002, which was adopted at the third Africa-Europe Meeting held in Addis Abeba in 2004. One of the general principles is that “measures to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings should be based on respect for human rights including protection of victims, and should not adversely affect the rights of victims of trafficking”.11

There exists even a products oriented code. In 2001, a Code of Conduct for the cocoa and chocolate industry, the so-called Harkin-Engel Protocol12, supported by the World Cocoa Foundation and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, has come into assistance, which obliges the industry to combat the worst forms of child labour. At present a system exists for certifying cocoa products as child- and forced labour free. 

What is the aim of all this?

The purposes of these legislations can be summarized as follows: they want to prevent and combat trafficking, promote cooperation among State parties and protect and assist victims of trafficking.

National authorities have responsibilities.13 They should

* establish conditions for the physical, psychological and social recovery of victims, which also includes appropriate housing,

* provide legal counselling and information, medical, psychological and material assistance, educational and training opportunities.

* take measures to protect witnesses and their relatives from retaliation and intimidation, and permit victims to remain in the destination country, temporally of permanently

* facilitate a safe repatriation of victims, as well as to provide the means which allow trafficked persons.  

All these have been adopted by the international community, their implementation on the national level has been applied quite differently, depending on whether a Nation stresses a criminal, a migrational or a human rights approach. Not always the interests of the victims are put in first place. The root causes of the problem are also often barely treated. As long as repatriated trafficked persons return to the same circumstances from which they sought to escape, the cycle of trafficking will easily continue.

Civil society initiatives sometimes complement efforts of the government or stimulate governments to take action. NGOs assist in finding solutions to trafficking.

Preventive measures are made up of the implementation of anti-trafficking laws, the adoption of labour laws and consequently their enforcement. This would be in line with a Regional Campaign against Child Sexual Abuse and Trafficking which is composed of Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola and Malawi.17 The campaign has included, amongst others, lobbying a Parliamentary Commission to take action to provide protection for trafficked children in South Africa and Mozambique; training police on the issue and on ways of protecting children’s rights, providing legal assistance for child victims of sexual abuse and trafficking in Mozambique; setting up a shelter for children deported from South Africa to Mozambique 

The Holy See and the fight against Trafficking

In 2002 the late Pope John Paul II said: “...The trade in human persons constitutes a shocking offence against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights. Already the Second Vatican Council had pointed to "slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, and disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than free and responsible persons" as "infamies" which "poison human society, debase their perpetrators" and constitute "a supreme dishonour to the Creator" (Gaudium et Spes, 27). Such situations are an affront to fundamental values which are shared by all cultures and peoples, values rooted in the very nature of the human person”.18

For that reason the Church is convinced that in fighting this shameful activity, respect of human rights must be highlighted. Last February, at the Vienna Forum on the fight against Trafficking in Human beings, the Delegation of the Apostolic See reminded the audience: “The Holy See has stated that all efforts to tackle criminal activities and to protect the victims of people involved in trafficking should include "both men and women and place human rights at the centre of all strategies".19

If the dignity and the human rights of the victims are to be guaranteed, the Catholic Church is proposing a holistic and integrated approach necessary to achieve and to stimulate the conscience of the world. This implies assisting the victims by being present with them. This involves listening to them, providing assistance, giving support to escape from sexual violence, creating safe houses, counselling geared towards integration into society or helping them to return in a sustainable way to their home country. In addition prevention and raising awareness activities are promoted. In countries which faced a violent conflict (i.e. DRC, Sierra Leone, Liberia) the Church has reached out to former child soldiers. Activities are undertaken for a social and economic integration into society, but also to heal the wounds of these former-ex combatants and the receiving family and /or community.

The Holy See promoted actively the human dignity of trafficked persons by supporting appropriate measures against trafficking in different structures such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, and the United Nations

In fact, “it is essential that we continue to oppose human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. In particular, trafficking in human beings for labour exploitation must be clearly distinguished from irregular migration. We must ensure that victims have access to justice, social and legal assistance and compensation for damages that they have suffered”.20

Trafficking for sexual exploitation is highly profitable. Our Dicastery organised the first International Meeting on the Pastoral Care for the Liberation of the Women of the Street, which also asked that the demand side, ‘customers’ - ordinary men – young men, husbands and fathers –, also needs to be addressed, which requires to know their motives to address the reasons why women are misused.21 

The Church in Africa and the fight against Trafficking of human beings

In Africa the Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria22 has addressed this matter by taking it up in a pastoral letter focusing on their specific local situations, while the Southern Africa Bishops’ Conference expressed in 2006 “acute concern regarding the international trafficking in women and children in Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland”. The Kenya Episcopal Conference (Commission for Doctrine of the Faith) tries to create an awareness about the problem by the distribution of flyers and follow-up discussions.

In fact, women Religious Congregations have taken the lead. In Africa they have been active with issues of return and reintegration of victims of trafficking. They started years ago in different countries by assisting trafficked women. We can mention some of their initiatives:

  • In order to prevent that young girls and women in Northern Ghana would become prey to promises, the organisation known as COLWOD (Collaboration with Women in Distress) was set up by the religious in 1995;
  • In 2001 the Committee for the Support of the Dignity of Women was set up in Nigeria by the Nigerian Conference of Women religious.23
  • In Rome the Justice and Peace Commission of the Union of Superiors General (USG/UISG) started in 1999 a Working Group against trafficking in women and children. From there other initiatives grew. One of them was to organise together with the International Organisation for Migration formation courses24 against trafficking in ten countries in four continents for religious congregations. These initiatives resulted in October 2007 in the creation of an International Network of Religious Against Trafficking in Persons (INRATIP).
  • In 2007 the Religious Congregations founded the African Network against Human Trafficking in Nairobi. 

At present increasing attention is given to the problem of trafficking in human beings. The member organisations of Caritas (AECAWA/CERAO) in both English and French speaking countries in West Africa will have a two day workshop on human trafficking and smuggling in Ghana at the end of this month. 


These and other initiatives need our moral and financial support. This requires however that the problem is sufficiently known at the national level or at least at the level of Ecclesiastical Provinces.

Pastoral letters could be issued tackling this problem linked to the broader setting, taking into account the world of migrants, refugees, internal displacement and trafficking.

The imperative to engage ourselves in the fight against new slaveries demands that priests, religious and lay people are trained in social analysis rooted in the Social Teachings of the Church. Episcopal Conferences, dioceses and parishes should have persons trained for this type of pastoral care and for collaboration with other national and international entities that are engaged in the same fight. In addition, we should realize that the work done already has to be integrated into the activities of the dioceses and that it should become a responsibility of the local Church to be involved.

Due attention should be given to victims of trafficking by promoting prevention and affording appropriate assistance and protection to trafficked persons for their longer term recovery and re/integration into society, which requires also an ecumenical and interreligious approach.

As written in the Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas est: “The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being”.25 “The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society”.26

Charlotte and many other persons like her are looking to the Church for a ray of hope; hope to be freed from this kind of slavery; hope to start a life of dignity; hope to be brought to the light of the Faith.

This is an opportunity for the Church in Africa – and everywhere in the world – to witness Jesus Christ who was anointed and sent to preach the good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set free the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Is 61:1-2; Lk 4:18-19).


1 ILO, A global alliance against forced labour. Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, 2005, p. 13.

2 Ibid, p. 13.

3 ILO, The Decent Work Agenda in Africa. 2007–2015, 2007; ILO, A global alliance against forced labour. Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, 2005, p. 42 “the incidence of child labour in Africa is the highest of all regions, linked to deep and widespread poverty; Wendy Davies, For the price of a bike. Child trafficking in Togo, 2005; Terre des Hommes, Les petites mains des carrières de pierre. Enquete su un trafic d’enfant entre le Bénin et le Nigéria, 2005.

4 Cfr. War Child, Child soldiers. The shadow of their existence, 2007.

14 Thank-Dam Truong, Poverty, Gender and Human Trafficking in Sub-Saharan Africa. Rethinking Best Practices in Migration Management, 2006.

15 Elaine Pearson, Study on Trafficking in Women in East Africa, 2003, p. 3; Janice Fong, Literature review on Trafficking in West and East Africa, 2006, p. 2.

16 UNODC, Measures to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings in Benin, Nigeria and Togo, 2006.

5 Art. 38, 3. States Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces.

6 Article 4. 1. Armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces of a State should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years. Article 6. 3. States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons within their jurisdiction recruited or used in hostilities contrary to the present Protocol are demobilized or otherwise released from service. States Parties shall, when necessary, accord to such persons all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and their social reintegration.

7 UNICEF, The Paris Principles. Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups, February 2007.

8 Article 4. The Rights to Life, Integrity and Security of the Person g) prevent and condemn trafficking in women, prosecute the perpetrators of such trafficking and protect those women most at risk.

9 Art. 4. (d) take all appropriate measures to ensure that in inter-country adoption, the placement does not result in trafficking or improper financial gain for those who try to adopt a child; Art. 29. Sale, Trafficking and Abduction. States Parties to the present Charter shall take appropriate measures to prevent: (a) the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form, by any person including parents or legal guardians of the child; (b) the use of children in all forms of begging.

10 UNESCO, Human Trafficking in Nigeria. Root Causes and Recommendations, 2006, p. 46.

11 Ouagadougou Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, Especially Women and Children As adopted by the Ministerial Conference on Migration and Development, Tripoli, 22-23 November 2006.

12 Chocolate Manufacturers Association, Protocol for the Growing and Processing of Cocoa beans and their derivative products in a manner that complies with ILO Convention 182 concerning the prohibition and immediate action for the Elimination of the Worst forms of Child Labour, Vienna, 2001.

13 Cfr. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Human beings, especially Women and Children, 2000, Art. 6.

17 UNESCO, Human Trafficking in Mozambique. Root Causes and Recommendations, 2006, p. 46-47.

18 Letter of John Paul II to Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran on the Occasion of the International Conference "Twenty-first Century Slavery - the Human Rights Dimension to Trafficking in Human Beings" 15 May 2002.

19 Intervention by the Holy See, Vienna Forum on the Fight Against "Trafficking in Human Beings", Vienna, 13-15 February 2008.

20 Intervention by the Holy See at the 15th OSCE Ministerial Council (Madrid, 29-30 November 2007), 29 November 2007. 20071129_osce-madrid_en.html

21 Cfr. Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road , June 2007, N. 94-95: “In social and personal relations, such people experience a loss of power and “masculinity” and are unable to develop relations of mutual respect. These men seek out prostitutes for an experience of total domination and control over a woman, even though only for a short period of time. The “customers” need help in solving their most intimate problems and in finding suitable ways of directing their sexual tendencies. “Buying sex” does not resolve the problems that arise primarily from frustration and lack of authentic relationships, and from the loneliness that characterises so many life situations today. An effective measure towards cultural change with respect to prostitution could derive from associating criminal law with social condemnation”.

22 Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Restoring the Dignity of the Nigerian Woman. A Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops’Conference of Nigeria, 2002.

23 Bernadette Sangma, FMA, Trafficking in Women and Children, Information and Workshop Kit, Rome 2003, p. 56 – 57.

24 Stefano Volpicelli, Understanding and Counteracting. Trafficking in Persons. The Acts of the Seminar for Women Religious, 2004; Bernadette Sangma, fma, Formation of Women Religious to counteract trafficking in Persons, undated.

25 Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas est, N. 25, 2005.

26 Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, N. 38, 2007.