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Essay: Conference shows how faith community is vital to ending human trafficking

By Ana Steele,

Dr. Ana Steele is president of the Dalit Freedom Network.

When the Orlean Council and Children Slavery Task Force convened leaders from various organizations and faith communities this week to discuss the important role the faith community has in the fight to end child trafficking, surveying the room was like spanning the globe.

It was readily apparent that this meeting brought together not only religious leaders but people of differing ideologies, life experiences, and careers. Yet, solidarity prevailed through one overarching message: nothing but a concerted global effort on the part of all stakeholders will defeat this atrocity called human trafficking and modern slavery. The panel emphasized the urgency for a “universal voice” in and from faith communities that are by definition predicated on a spiritual mandate to end suffering. Regardless of one’s religion, we can all recognize that slavery is a sacrilege that needs to be eradicated.

The panel called for a change in the current discourse on trafficking and slavery—this atrocity is not just a human rights violation; it is the third largest form of organized crime in our world, after drugs and guns.

Speakers included Imam Yahya Hendi, Director of Muslim Chaplaincy at Georgetown University and founder of Clergy Beyond Borders, a global multi-faith itinerant teaching group whose past focus has been conflict resolution and whose future aim is to be a voice of ‘inclusivity and respect,’ especially for those who have abused by religion. He believes interfaith communities must shift to becoming part of the solution to human trafficking and not creators of these crimes against humanity.

Dr. Helga Konrad, former Austrian federal government minister and executive director of Anti-Trafficking, participated in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) first conference on the rights of children, which opened her eyes to the importance of establishing international children’s rights laws. She advocated for practical techniques to prevent trafficking before it begins and called for global interfaith communities to collaborate and cooperate in the implementation of prevention measures. She also advocated for more international laws and conventions.

The third speaker, Dr. Joseph D’souza, international president of Dalit Freedom Network and president of the All India Christian Council, urged all faith communities to begin a journey to create “spiritual democracies within their own religions that ensure equal rights for all.” He explained there is no place in today’s world for undemocratic religions that abuse children and women with impunity.  D’souza shared an important insight: there is a distinct nexus between human trafficking and money, power, and religion.  We must go beyond dialogue to engage in “dia-practice” in order to eradicate global modern slavery.

We must also learn to recognize victims of trafficking within our own communities. The fourth speaker, Jim Gamble, former head of Counter Terrorism in Northern Ireland, stressed that people of all faiths can play their part against human trafficking by looking for warning signs of potential abuse in their own communities. He listed six indicators of a trafficked child—including erratic behavior, poor health, a tense and depersonalized relationship with the adult accompanying them. Gamble urged that we must alert local law enforcement if we see a potential victim in our own community.

Armed with new knowledge and practical solutions for combat, the conference came to a close, but the discussion is far from over. People of diverse faiths, backgrounds, and ethnicities, cannot solve this problem from their own silos. They must now come together, in the unity and bond of peace, forsake their differences, and fight as one to end human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery in our world.   

© The Washington Post Company