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UK Cardinal backs anti-trafficking conference in Nigeria

By Ann Marie Foley - 14 November, 2018

Working on the Grow Edo scheme

Cardinal Vincent Nichols has praised work to combat slavery and human trafficking in Nigeria.

The UK-based Cardinal sent a video message to what is the first Santa Marta Group Africa Regional Conference, stating that the work not only helps victims but also provides “the circumstances in which [people] might not leave [Nigeria], might not be caught, cheated into slavery”.

He is President of Santa Marta, and highlighted the ‘GrowEdo’ project, which helps vulnerable young adults to become entrepreneurs and to find a reason to stay in Nigeria. The young people receive training in practical crop growing and in management of their individual plot of land. They develop crops and products that they are interested in and see as having market potential.

By becoming ‘agri-preneurs’, they are less at risk of being lured into modern slavery and human trafficking. They also promote food security and help develop the rural economy. GrowEdo is a pilot project that is expected to be rolled out to other areas and is part of the Church’s wider contribution to combat modern slavery in Edo State. The project is supported by the Santa Marta Group and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

Santa Marta Africa project director and joint organiser of the conference, Fr Mark Odion, said that the conference aimed to “look at the issues of human trafficking and encourage African countries to look inward to create job opportunities for young people within the continent of Africa”.

Poverty is the reason why trafficking is rampant in Africa, stated Fr Odion, who is originally from Edo State. “The poverty level is being fueled by the high level of corruption on the continent. Poverty and corruption have made Africans go cap in hand begging from others,” he added. “We hope that the conference will encourage African countries to establish the model of GrowEdo back home – investing in vulnerable young adults to become entrepreneurs – to find hope and a future.”

The conference is taking place in Abuja, Nigeria this week. Organised by the Santa Marta Group (preventing human trafficking and modern slavery), it is hosted by Caritas Nigeria. It has as its theme ‘Church and state working together to restore dignity to trafficked persons’.

At the conference, the USA-based Arise Foundation is launching Threads of Solidarity, a report into the commitment of religious in the UK to countering slavery. The Conference of Religious of England and Wales commissioned the report, which found that 172 members of religious institutes (144 women and 28 men) are providing front-line services to people who have fallen prey to traffickers. It also showed that 16 religious congregations have provided 29 properties worth nearly £16.4 million to help trafficked people, and have worked with donations of more than £10 million.

Conference delegataes

Participants and speakers at the conference are from Ghana, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Malawi, the Central African Republic, and the host country, Nigeria – countries that are particularly impacted by human trafficking.

The experiences of victims/survivors are central to the conference. Law enforcement officials from South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria speak on how to strengthen law enforcement institutions. Experts from Nigeria share examples of how to create livelihoods, based on the GrowEdo model. A religious sister, university professor and priest from the Vatican’s Office for Migrants & Refugees share their experiences of awareness raising, trauma healing and pastoral care for victims.

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