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Pope Francis appeals for an end to slavery

By Sarah Mac Donald - 11 December, 2014

pope-francis1Pope Francis has published his message for ‘World Day of Peace’ – which the Church commemorates on 1 January – with an appeal for an end to human slavery, including organ trafficking, prostitution, and child soldiers.

The six-page document pays tribute to the “enormous and often silent efforts” which have been made for many years by religious congregations, especially women’s congregations, to provide support to victims.

The Pontiff says these institutes work in very difficult situations, dominated at times by violence, as they work to break the invisible chains binding victims to traffickers and exploiters.

Those chains are made up of a series of links, each composed of clever psychological ploys which make the victims dependent on their exploiters, he says.

“This is accomplished by blackmail and threats made against them and their loved ones, but also by concrete acts such as the confiscation of their identity documents and physical violence.”

The religious congregations work in three main areas: offering assistance to victims, working for their psychological and educational rehabilitation, and in efforts to reintegrate them into the society where they live or from which they have come.

“This immense task, which calls for courage, patience and perseverance, deserves the appreciation of the whole Church and society,” the Pope writes in his message.

But he warns that of itself, it is not sufficient to end the scourge of the exploitation of human persons but there also needs to be a threefold commitment on the institutional level: to prevention, to victim protection and to the legal prosecution of perpetrators.

“Moreover, since criminal organisations employ global networks to achieve their goals, efforts to eliminate this phenomenon also demand a common and, indeed, a global effort on the part of various sectors of society,” he suggests.

Elsewhere in his message for World Day of Peace, Pope Francis calls on states to ensure that their legislation truly respects the dignity of the human person in the areas of migration, employment, adoption, the movement of businesses offshore and the sale of items produced by slave labour.

“There is a need for just laws which are centred on the human person, uphold fundamental rights and restore those rights when they have been violated.”

“Such laws should also provide for the rehabilitation of victims, ensure their personal safety, and include effective means of enforcement which leave no room for corruption or impunity.”

He added that the role of women in society must also be recognised, not least through initiatives in the sectors of culture and social communications.

Intergovernmental organisations are called to coordinate initiatives for combating the transnational networks of organised crime which oversee the trafficking of persons and the illegal trafficking of migrants.

Cooperation, the Pope states, is clearly needed at a number of levels, involving national and international institutions, agencies of civil society and the world of finance.

He adds that businesses have a duty to ensure dignified working conditions and adequate salaries for their employees, but they must also be vigilant that forms of subjugation or human trafficking do not find their way into the distribution chain.

“Together with the social responsibility of businesses, there is also the social responsibility of consumers. Every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act.”

Organisations in civil society, for their part, have the task of awakening consciences and promoting whatever steps are necessary for combating and uprooting the culture of enslavement.

Identifying the many faces of slavery yesterday and today, the Pope recognises that from time immemorial, different societies have known the phenomenon of man’s subjugation by man and that there were even periods of human history in which the institution of slavery was generally accepted and regulated by law.

Today, as the result of a growth in awareness, slavery is seen as a crime against humanity, and has been formally abolished throughout the world.

“The right of each person not to be kept in a state of slavery or servitude has been recognized in international law as inviolable,” the Pontiff underlines.

Yet, even though the international community has adopted numerous agreements aimed at ending slavery in all its forms, and has launched various strategies to combat this phenomenon, millions of people today – children, women and men of all ages – are deprived of freedom and are forced to live in conditions akin to slavery.

“I think of the many men and women labourers, including minors, subjugated in different sectors, whether formally or informally, in domestic or agricultural workplaces, or in the manufacturing or mining industry; whether in countries where labour regulations fail to comply with international norms and minimum standards, or, equally illegally, in countries which lack legal protection for workers’ rights.”

“I think also of the living conditions of many migrants who, in their dramatic odyssey, experience hunger, are deprived of freedom, robbed of their possessions, or undergo physical and sexual abuse.”

“In a particular way, I think of those among them who, upon arriving at their destination after a gruelling journey marked by fear and insecurity, are detained in at times inhumane conditions. I think of those among them, who for different social, political and economic reasons, are forced to live clandestinely.”

“My thoughts also turn to those who, in order to remain within the law, agree to disgraceful living and working conditions, especially in those cases where the laws of a nation create or permit a structural dependency of migrant workers on their employers, as, for example, when the legality of their residency is made dependent on their labour contract. Yes, I am thinking of ‘slave labour’.”

“I think also of persons forced into prostitution, many of whom are minors, as well as male and female sex slaves. I think of women forced into marriage, those sold for arranged marriages and those bequeathed to relatives of their deceased husbands, without any right to give or withhold their consent.”

“Nor can I fail to think of all those persons, minors and adults alike, who are made objects of trafficking for the sale of organs, for recruitment as soldiers, for begging, for illegal activities such as the production and sale of narcotics, or for disguised forms of cross-border adoption.”

“Finally, I think of all those kidnapped and held captive by terrorist groups, subjected to their purposes as combatants, or, above all in the case of young girls and women, to be used as sex slaves. Many of these disappear, while others are sold several times over, tortured, mutilated or killed.”

Pope Francis holds up St Josephine Bakhita, from the Darfur region in Sudan, who was kidnapped by slave-traffickers and sold to brutal masters when she was nine years old, as a witness of hope for the many victims of slavery.

She became a Canossian nun in Italy in the early 20th century and Pope Francis says she “can support the efforts of all those committed to fighting against this “open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ”.

The full text of the Pope’s message for World Day of Peace can be read here: http://www.news.va/en/news/2015-world-day-of-peace-message-no-longer-slaves-b

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