ROME, MAY 27, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Bishops of southern African nations are trying to bring global attention to the problem of human trafficking in their region.
The prelates, collaborating with the group Planet Waves, organized a meeting last week on the phenomenon, which affects an unknown number of people. Four episcopal conferences were represented at the meeting: Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
It’s estimated 300 people a week enter South Africa illegally from Mozambique alone.
Trafficking in the region is “complex and is fueled by a wide range of factors and these include poverty, dysfunctional economies, conflicts and demands for cheap labor,” the bishops noted in a communiqué, Fides reported. “The exact number of people who are lured into trafficking in the [area] remains unknown because of the non-availability of official statistics on this scourge.”
The Interregional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa is formed by the bishops’ conferences of Angola and Sao Tome, Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland, Losotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
The prelates lamented that their governments give too little attention to the problem, though they are aware of it. They acknowledged that the nations lack both human and financial resources to deal with the issue.
However they affirmed, “Religious groups can play a significant role in raising awareness and acting on this issue with the support of their governments to curb this problem.”
The prelates also noted how the World Cup to be held in South Africa from June 11 to July 11 has become a way to send people to traffickers.
“All those people who would like to make some money during the World Cup have become vulnerable to trafficking, especially girls who are told that they will be waitresses or tour guides for the visitors,” they said.
The participants at the meeting organized a series of workshops to be held through November, focusing on the definition of trafficking, how traffickers operate, how to identify and help victims, the Church’s position on the issue, and the way forward.
Earlier this month in South Africa about 1,000 people gathered in Pretoria to pray for an end to human trafficking.
It is estimated that as many as 40,000 sex workers and prostitutes will be imported to the nation during the World Cup.
Sister Melanie O’Connor, coordinator of the Counter Trafficking in Persons Office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, is warning parents of the dangers of leaving their children unattended. She has noted how research increasingly shows that women recruiters are becoming more prominent in the trafficking process.
“South Africa is recognized internationally as a ‘hot spot’ for human trafficking — being a country of origin, transition and destination for trafficking,” the bishops’ conference noted on their Web site, “and there is the fear that trafficking of women and children will increase significantly during the World Cup.”