“Trafficking in persons and other contemporary forms of enslavement are a worldwide problem that needs to be taken seriously by humanity as a whole.”
These were the words of the Holy See’s Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Monsignor Janusz Urbańczyk, during a meeting of the body’s Permanent Council.
He pointed out that there are “more than 40 million victims of trafficking or exploitation in the world.” Of that disturbing number, 10 million are younger than 18 years old, and 1 out of 20 are children under eight years old who are victims of sexual exploitation.
Msgr. Urbańczyk commended the OSCE’s efforts in this regard so far, and expressed appreciation in particular for its 4P approach: Prosecution, Protection, Prevention and Partnerships.
The OSCE meeting, which was held on Thursday, focused on the fight against trafficking in human beings.
Poor prosecution rates
One failure Msgr. Urbańczyk noted with concern is the poor prosecution rate of human traffickers.
He added that the decline in the number of prosecutions “adds insult to injury” as only a few of the victims see their traffickers prosecuted by criminal justice.
Another area of concern, said Msgr. Urbańczyk, is the trafficking of human beings for the organ trade. This crime, he noted, apart from being underestimated, is widespread - even in the OSCE area.
To combat this, there is a “need for an agreed, concrete procedures for alerting professionals, appropriate authorities and agencies to organ trafficking,” he said.
“Health professionals and authorities can no longer turn a blind eye to the need to regulate travel for transplantation and to prevent and combat transplant-related crimes,” he added.
Msgr. Urbańczyk remarked that through policies, educational campaigns and programs, significant progress has been made in identifying and addressing factors that make people susceptible to trafficking. He, therefore, encouraged joint efforts in the fight against trafficking, “starting by addressing what drives it.”
However, he noted, armed conflicts and forced migration have worsened some of the social, economic, cultural and political factors that make people vulnerable to trafficking. Further compounding the situation is the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic which, due to its restrictions, has transformed human trafficking into an “ever-growing internet business.”
In light of all of this, Msgr. Urbańczyk proposes that priority be given to ensuring “access to social protection, to education, to jobs, to health care and to the justice system” because the lack of these is often exploited by traffickers to recruit new victims.
Likewise, for survivors’ rehabilitation and reintegration, he said "they need access to physical and mental health services, education, training programs and employment opportunities so that they can have “a new start and legal protection from those who would compel them back into slavery.”
Trafficking victims: human beings with faces and stories
In all the efforts against trafficking in persons, Msgr. Urbańczyk stressed the importance of keeping in mind that “victims and survivors are human beings” and they should “always feel that they are being treated with dignity and respect.”
“It is easy in discussions to present numbers,” he noted. “However, we must keep in mind that every number has a face, a name and a story to tell.”
Reiterating Pope Francis’s words in the Encyclical letter Fratelli tutti, Msgr. Urbańczyk said that trafficking in persons represents a “shame for humanity” which international politics “must no longer tolerate.”