Clergy, women religious and laypeople pledged to strengthen existing networks and build new partnerships to fight human trafficking in West Africa during a five-day conference.
Recognising that the coronavirus pandemic has not slowed the work of traffickers who force young people into prostitution, pornography, erotic entertainment and forced labour, more than two dozen participants agreed to strengthen efforts that stress Church teaching on human dignity and the need to protect people who are most vulnerable to trafficking in the region.
Conference participants from Ghana, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, who are members of Talitha Kum, an international network of women and men religious fighting trafficking, said the work was crucial because people are being trafficked into dehumanising conditions.
In a seven-point “Action Plan”, the group resolved during the June 1-5 gathering to improve communications and expressed a desire to connect with conferences of major superiors in their respective countries. They also planned to regularly convene online to pray to end trafficking.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has magnified the scourge of human trafficking. Traffickers prey upon the most vulnerable and look for opportunities to exploit them,” participant Sr Monica Onwunali, a member of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles in Nigeria, told Catholic News Service.
“As the whole world stood still, traffickers did not shut down. They continued to harm people, finding ways to innovate and even capitalise on the chaos,” Sr Monica said.
Seeking to escape dire poverty, most people are unaware that they are being recruited by traffickers, she explained to the conference, which was organised by the Ghana Network of Talitha Kum.
Migrant people are particularly vulnerable because they “view the services of smugglers as an opportunity to move from impoverished conditions in their home countries to more stable, developed environments”, she added.
Sr Philomena Okwu, a member of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul and coordinator of the Committee for the Support of the Dignity of Women in Nigeria, told participants that steps to boost networking among religious communities can lead to long-lasting professional relationships that strengthen efforts to disrupt trafficking networks.