One of the great obstacles in putting an end to human trafficking is general ignorance about this issue, and a lack of awareness about how many people are victims.
This was an assertion made by Stieneke van der Graaf, a board member of the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM), who spoke with ZENIT about how the ECPM, like the Vatican, is intent on confronting human trafficking and how this phenomenon, and especially forced prostitution, must be put to an end.
The European Christian Political Movement’s main priorities are upholding human dignity throughout Europe, promoting religious freedom and an economy that works for the people, protecting the family and marriage, as well as working to combat human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
ZENIT interviewed the board member, who had traveled from the Netherlands, at the Rome conference June 26-29 entitled “Poverty and Common Good: Putting the ‘Preferential Option for the Poor’ at the Service of the Poor.”
The event was organized by the international think tank Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI) which aims to uphold human dignity based on the anthropological truth that man is created in the image and likeness of God. Conference speakers included senior Vatican officials, politicians, media and business leaders, in the Casina Paolo IV of the Vatican gardens.
ZENIT: Could you share about yourself and the organization which you represent?
Van der Graaf: My name is Stieneke van der Graaf. I am a board member of the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM). We are an European political party based on Christian democratic principles. We started about ten years ago, uniting Christian democratic principles throughout Europe, not only throughout the EU, but throughout all of Europe. And now, since the last couple of years, we have become accredited as a political party. We are growing as a party, actually here in Europe, and we are trying to connect Christian NGOS throughout the world, but with a focus on Europe. This is why we also have contacts, very close ties, with the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, and we support this conference as well.
ZENIT: Could you speak a bit about how a conference with the theme of poverty and the common good is relevant to the work and priorities of ECPM?
Van der Graaf: For us, politically, European elections were just held. They just took place. A key point in our election manifesto and political party is human dignity–to promote human dignity and Christian democratic values. One of the topics discussed this morning was human trafficking. And it was really good that it was discussed here, this morning, in a part of the modern day slavery portion of the discourses.
ZENIT: Why do you think it was important for human trafficking to be discussed in this forum?
Van der Graaf: I think it was important because a lot of people do not link human trafficking to prostitution, or forced prostitution, really I have to admit. A lot of awareness has to be raised on this subject.
I think it was important that it was shared here this morning, both in a discourse of a bishop and also in the speech of a professor, who both illuminated why speaking about it is so important.
ZENIT: What aspects of human trafficking do people need to become aware about?
Van der Graaf: Well, the United Nations estimates that there are 140,000 victims of human trafficking, and in the end, forced prostitution, here in Europe. Yes, it’s quite a number.
Within the EU, we have open borders, which is a good thing in regard to trade relations, as we have free entrance. One can move freely and trade within the EU. One needn’t show their passport all the time, if you are within the EU or if you are an EU citizen, but it has a downside as well.
ZENIT: Could you please describe this downside?
Van der Graaf: There are criminal networks. And this open relationship helps facilitate them in doing their jobs, their awful jobs throughout Europe.
What we see is a lot of victims, mostly women, young women, are being trafficked. We want to combat human trafficking and put an end to that modern day slavery. There is a lot of opposition to this in some countries, but mostly we see that awareness helps people understand the problem in depth and also encourages people to join us in this combat.
ZENIT: Could you describe some concrete measures that your organization has taken, in regard to human trafficking, as well as any others you would like to highlight?
Van der Graaf: Well, within the European Parliament, there has been an initiative to make a report to put an end to human trafficking and to change the way of looking at prostitution and to advise member states to punish the purchasers of sex, the visitors, and not the victims, not the prostitutes, who are very vulnerable. We have other initiatives which have the same intention to punish the purchasers of sex. Through these we try to influence the demand side of this epidemic, and it has turned out to be a good thing. We helped within European Parliament to get a report adopted and in the Council of Europe. There was a motion, a resolution, which was adopted by the council as well.
So, we tried some successful ways, but we need to go further, so what we really need to do is we need to get the prostitutes out of the system and get them into safe places, into their homes again, as well as help them find work. We need to help them with their economic circumstances which often follow from whatever country they are originally from. It has a lot to do with their backgrounds, their countries of origin.
ZENIT: Have you been following the active role the Vatican has taken to combat human trafficking, especially that of Pope Francis, who personally met with victims?
Van der Graaf: Yes, I think the Vatican’s efforts have been very positive and helpful. We are really pleased with Pope Francis and all he has done. He is doing a very good thing by addressing this issue and showing that a lot of the girls are truly victims, and they are trafficked. In his important place and position, it is really beneficial that he does this. We are aware of the difference he can make, and we favor all his efforts.
On the NET:
European Christian Political Movement: www.ecpm.eu
Dignitatis Humanae Institute: www.dignitatishumanae.org