Monday 8 February has been observed the world over as the Second International Day of Prayer and awareness against human trafficking.
Sr. Anna Theresa Nyadombo of Zimbabwe is a member of the religious congregation known as the Handmaids of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The congregation is part of the wider Carmelite family. Recently, Sr. Nyandombo who works for the education department of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference was in Rome, Italy to attend the second international coordinating meeting for religious women against human trafficking.
Speaking to the Africa Service of Vatican Radio, Sr. Nyadombo says Africa could and should do more about human trafficking.
“Human trafficking in Africa is a big problem but in Africa, we are silent about it. In this meeting that I just attended, we only had five countries from the continent of Africa namely, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Uganda and Burkina Faso. I must say that in Africa, as religious women we are also members of the Africa network against human trafficking but so far not many countries are forthcoming,” Sr. Nyandombo said.
She attributed the problem of human trafficking to high levels of poverty, widespread unemployment, corruption among law enforcement agencies and the lack of awareness among communities.
“Human trafficking has many faces. Some people are trafficked for cheap labour, some women and girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation while other people are trafficked for the purpose of harvesting their organs. Then there are those who are trafficked so that they can be used as mules in the smuggling of illegal drugs,” Sr. Nyadombo explained.
She believes that the Church can make a significant contribution in curbing human trafficking.
“There is the need for safe houses where those rescued from human trafficking can be assisted and counselled; there is the need for awareness creation, skills training centres; there is also the possibility for the religious to train lawyers who can work with law enforcement agencies to prosecute traffickers and many other pastoral possibilities,” she suggested.
Religious congregations, in particular, could be the important link that is tasked with the mission of going out to villages and communities educating society and families about human trafficking. This is what Sr. Nyadombo herself is currently doing in Zimbabwe. Her congregation, the Carmelites are engaged in working with communities. In her outreach programmes to parishes and rural communities, she distributes leaflets, tracts and posters and speaks especially to youth and women groups about the problem of this modern day slavery.
“You see sometimes it is parents who actually sell their own children to traffickers. Such parents need to be challenged and educated so that they know that what they are doing is wrong and a serious crime. Some husbands have also been known to sell their wives. As a matter of fact, sometimes you just do not know who could traffic you. In almost all cases, trafficked persons end up in a worse situation than they previously were in,” Sr. Nyadombo emphasised.
She has alluded to the importance of a holistic approach that works with African governments in improving the lives of communities. She says, sometimes it is the desperation in poor communities that leads people to offer themselves, for example, to swallow and transport illegal drugs or seek to become migrants in Europe or the Middle East.
Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken out against human trafficking. In January 2015, he said, “All of us are called 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,” said Pope Francis.
In part, the Talitha Kum project is a response to Pope Francis’ appeals. Talitha Kum is an Aramaic expression which means, “Maiden, I say to you Arise.” The expression is found in the Gospel of Mark Chapter 5. Talita Kum is thus an international network under the auspices of the International Union of Religious Superior Generals that is bringing together consecrated persons to raise awareness about human trafficking.
8 February is significant as an annual day of commemoration because it is the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita. She is a saint of Sudanese origin who knew the anguish of being kidnapped and slavery. Saint Bakhita is the patron saint of Sudan but is now also being promoted as a patron saint for victims of slavery and trafficked persons.
(Fr. Paul Samasumo, Vatican Radio)