Human Trafficking, Working to Stop it!
Loreto Sr Anne Kelly has worked in both Uganda and Timor Leste and in 2010 was appointed to a three year term as ibvm NGO Representative at the United Nations. Sr Anne has been the Principal at both Loreto Coorparoo in Queensland and Loreto Kirribilli in Sydney. She now lives in Brisbane assisting Marist Solidarity. Sr Anne writes about her firsthand experience with our global plight to stop human trafficking.
At an international meeting of the Loreto Sisters in Spain last September, delegates formally declared their opposition to the crime of human trafficking.
As members of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an international and multicultural congregation of women religious, we pledge to work for the eradication of all forms of human trafficking and its causes, particularly among women and children, wherever we live and minister.
The purpose of this public statement is to draw attention to human trafficking as a serious social issue and to call all members of the Loreto network to work towards its eradication.
Trafficking of persons – often referred to as modern day slavery – has many guises. It includes sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, the illegal removal of organs and child marriage. It is estimated that more than 21 million trafficking victims work as sex slaves, child soldiers and bonded workers in the agriculture, construction, hospitality, textile and fishing industries, generating $32 billion each year.
MWIA has been engaged in fighting this form of abuse for a number of years, as I witnessed during a recent visit to the Darjeeling Mary Ward Social Centre (DMWSC) in West Bengal, India. MWIA supports DMWSC in its efforts to improve the lives of tea plantation labourers, some of the poorest and most ill-treated people in the world today.
The structure of tea plantations is feudal in nature with workers following rules that have been in operation for centuries. Women and children pluck the newest shoots of the tea plant, while men pack and sort the tea in factories. Given their meagre wages, parents are barely able to afford enough food for their children let alone send them to school, thus ensuring they remain trapped in extreme poverty for the rest of their lives.
While in India, I was privileged to spend time with young women from the Siliguri Tea Gardens, who meet once a week to make jute products such as mats, coasters and baskets in a project known as Ethical Enterprises. There was general rejoicing on one of my visits at the news that a large order for mats had just been placed by the government. Elsewhere in neighbouring Panighatta, young women are taught to make cards and other paper products, as a means of generating income for their families. What impressed me about these projects was the fact that these young women are not only gaining new marketable skills, but being encouraged to imagine a life outside the system they have been born into.
In its Collective Voices program, DMWSC works very closely with adult women, employing ‘animators’ to bring the women pickers together to discuss their problems and develop strategies to solve them. I visited several of these groups and was amazed on each occasion by the positive energy the women generated, despite their experience of illiteracy, exploitation and disempowerment.
Lacking education and a sense of their own worth, India’s tea garden families are highly vulnerable, in particular the adolescent daughters who fall easy prey to the lure of human traffickers promising a better life. A crucial and complex component of DMWSC’S work involves finding these girls in the countries or regions to which they have been transported and bringing them home, so that the difficult and heartbreaking task of rehabilitation can begin.
In pledging themselves to combat human trafficking, the Loreto sisters have made their position very clear and offer a challenge to each and every one of us to join them in their endeavour.