Women religious say nations' policies don't help trafficking victims

ROME (CNS) -- A growing global network of women religious has appealed to world leaders, international organizations and people of good will to join its fight against human trafficking.

Not enough is being done to alleviate the poverty and instability that drive the majority of men, women and children into the hands of traffickers or reverse the "false idea of male domination" that fuels the sex trade, said a statement released at the end of a June 2-6 international congress of women religious against human trafficking.

Dozens of women religious from 20 nations and 31 congregations took part in the congress organized by the International Union of Superiors General and the International Organization for Migration.

Participants said national policies were ineffective in getting women who were forced into prostitution off the street.

"Instead, every harsh clampdown against immigration does nothing more than give new impetus to the illegal trafficking" of people, said the final statement.

As long as people ignore the reasons victims fall into the hands of traffickers -- such as grinding poverty or instability at home -- "there will be no solutions" to stop human trafficking and the illegal sex trade, it said.

"Human trafficking is one of the effects of the globalization of poverty and hunger against which governments are only engaged in a war of words," it said.

The statement said human trafficking was not only a violation of human rights, but "an embarrassment for all humanity."

It denounced the sex trade, which snares the majority of illegally trafficked women and children. Those forced into prostitution are victims of "a sex trade based on a false idea of male domination that still is not called enough into question," it said.

The Union of Superiors General, which represents 215 orders of men religious, pledged greater involvement in this global fight against the commercialization of sex and exploitation of women.

Salesian Father Thomas Brennan told congress participants that the moral issues behind the demand for sex workers were key to fighting the sex trade.

"Men have to take an active part in helping change mentalities and no longer remain accomplices of the corrupted system that favors the continuation and increase of violence against women," he said; his remarks were reported June 6 by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

According to statistics presented at the congress, 600,000 to 800,000 people are victims of human trafficking each year, but because of the secretive and illegal nature of the business, the actual number is believed to be much higher.

Nearly 70 percent of those being trafficked are women, and 50 percent of the women are minors.

U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon praised efforts at stemming supply and demand for sex slaves.

During her June 4 address to the congress, she praised the International Organization for Migration for developing "an excellent pilot program to work with clergy of several faiths, including Islam and Judaism, to address demand."

She highlighted the United States' continued support of anti-trafficking projects worldwide.

Since 2002, the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican has helped fund numerous anti-trafficking training programs that help foreign women flee forced prostitution.

Copyright (c) 2008 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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