Issued by the Catholic Center for Studies and Media - Jordan. Editor-in-chief Fr. Rif'at Bader - موقع أبونا

Published on Friday, 23 February 2024
Three women religious, one from India, receive awards for their fight human trafficking
Sister Seli Thomas received the Common Good Award, while Sister. Francoise Jiranonda, from Thailand, and Sister Patricia Ebegbulem, from Nigeria, were honoured with two other important awards for their work against human trafficking. The awards ceremony was held in London late last month at the inaugural Sisters Anti-Trafficking Awards (SATA), which celebrated the contribution of Catholic nuns to the anti-trafficking movement.

Nirmala Carvalho/ :

This is a “symbol of hope” for all the children, women and men, who are victims of human trafficking, experiencing shame and trauma, said Sister Seli Thomas, an Indian member of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate, speaking about the Common Good Award, which she received in London on 31 October on the occasion of the first edition of the Sisters Anti-Trafficking Awards (SATA), a prize celebrating the contribution of Catholic nuns to the fight against human trafficking.


Sister Seli received the award along with two other women religious for showing “courage, creativity, collaboration and achievement in the protection of their communities from human trafficking”.


The Sister of Mary Immaculate works in Krishnagar, West Bengal, trying to prevent young women from ending up in networks of exploitation.


She does so by providing free legal aid and holding awareness-raising workshops to inform women and the community about safe migration and human trafficking. She has also reached out to the children of prostitutes living in Krishnanagar's brothels.


Upon receiving the award, the nun thanked the organising bodies and mentioned the story of one of the many victims she managed to save.


The woman, in her 30s, told her, weeping: “Sister, where were you all these years? If I had met you before, I would have never been a sex worker, I wouldn’t be trafficked, being sold and resold to men over and over since the age of 12.”


This “was a heartbreaking and a painful cry,” Sister Seli said. “All I could do was to just hug her, and that cry impelled me to go beyond”.


“I know well that I cannot change the whole world. What I can do is to bring about some transformation and give hope to those in despair and thus save a few lives from being trafficked, one person at a time,” she explained.


“That is what I have been doing for the past 12 years and hope to continue to do for the rest of my life,” she added.


The Sisters Anti-Trafficking Awards were sponsored by Arise, an NGO that fights against exploitation around the world; the International Union of Superiors General, which represents about 600,000 women religious from 80 countries and founded the anti-trafficking network Talitha Kum; and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, established by the well-known hotelier in 1944.


The event brought together 200 people, Catholics and non-Catholics, including former British Prime Minister Theresa May and British-Somali retired marathon runner Mo Farah.


According to UN data, in 2020, detection rates of trafficking-related crimes dropped by 11 per cent and convictions fell by 27 per cent, highlighting a general slowdown in the fight against human trafficking worldwide, a problem that is getting worse in some developing countries.


Women religious “are the largest force against human trafficking in the world,” the Arise Foundation said in a press release. They “are often uniquely positioned in remote areas, otherwise out of reach. They are embedded in and trusted by their communities – key to effective anti-trafficking work,” the Foundation noted.


In addition to Sister Seli Thomas, Sister Françoise Jiranonda of the Sisters of St Paul de Chartres, from Thailand, and Sister Patricia Ebegbulem of the Sisters of St Louis, from Nigeria, also received awards.


After helping to develop the Talitha Kum network in Thailand as its director, Sister Francoise now works in the capital Bangkok, where she has opened two schools to protect young Thai women, supporting especially Karen women from rural areas. Students get free vocational training to develop their skills.


Sister Ebegbulem founded Bakhita Villa, named after the Sudanese slave who later became St Josephine Bakhita, to rehabilitate and reintegrate women survivors of trafficking. She also runs awareness-raising programmes in high-risk rural areas and schools, providing education and jobs to keep young people away from trafficking.