The Oct. 15-20 event was organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and the Italian Union of Major Superiors. The more than 30 women religious from 26 countries launched the International Network of Religious Against Trafficking in Persons (INRATIP).
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At their first international conference on human trafficking, Catholic sisters from 26 countries and all continents gathered in Rome. Statistics indicate that there are 800 congregations and over 1 million Catholic sisters in the world. Delegates to the conference committed to use their personnel, resources and historical commitment to those living in situations of poverty to eradicate human trafficking — a modern-day form of slavery. The following is their statement to the world.
Trafficking in human beings means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons using threat, force, coercion, fraud, deception or abuse of power by payments to achieve consent of control over a person for the purpose of exploitation. Trafficking in children requires only the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall mean, among other things, sexual exploitation, domestic service, forced labor or removal of organs.
We say to you who have been trafficked — especially women and children — we stand with you, you are not alone. We will fight with you to release you from your bondage. In solidarity with you, we will confront the traffickers. We challenge unjust systems and those who exploit you. Do not give up hope.
We, the women religious from across the world say to you traffickers: Stop the exploitation! Look at the children, women and men you are destroying with your physical and psychological abuse. By violating their fundamental human rights you damage, deny and destroy their identities, names and status. We condemn these actions as well as the subtle ways you use to exploit them.
To demanders and exploiters
We call on you who exploit women, children and men for commercial sex or forced labor to stop buying human beings, for without your demand, the evil of human trafficking would not exist. We call on you to realize that all women, children and men have equal rights and dignity and that in your demand you cause irreparable harm and lose your own dignity.
We acknowledge that many governments have laws against trafficking and call for an increased enforcement of these laws. We further call on the governments of the world to address the issues of economic inequality, poverty and corruption that lead to the destruction of so many lives. The physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological torture of millions of people, hidden in back streets, ghettoes, hotels and parlors all over the world is criminal activity. We urge governments to create and implement policies and strong legislation to criminalize the exploiters. Good governance demands that traffickers do not benefit from the vulnerability of others.
To all religious leaders
We appreciate all the religious leaders who have supported us in the fight against trafficking in persons. We call on all religious leaders to end religious practices and customs that discriminate against women and girls, and hence contribute to the attitude of gender inequality underlying the growth of human trafficking in our world today.
We urge all religious leaders to denounce injustice and violence against women, children and men who are exploited or used in the sale of organs. We encourage you to relentlessly use your pastoral responsibility to defend and promote the human dignity of persons exploited by these forms of slavery.
To people of good will
We urge all people of good will to open your hearts to the victims and to act to change the root causes of human trafficking — poverty, gender inequality, discrimination, greed and corruption. Each small action of restoring dignity to another person furthers the dignity of each on of us. Our hope rests in that vision of humanity that honors the principle that no woman, child or man is a commodity for sale. Relying on the love of God, we ask you to join us in our prayers and our actions to eradicate this social and moral evil.[Text adapted]