Today marks the third international day of prayer and reflection against human trafficking, instituted by Pope Francis to fall on the liturgical memorial of St Josephine Bakhita. Sister Gracy belongs to the Asian Movement of Women Religious Against Human Trafficking. Various initiatives are set to take place worldwide against slavery.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Sister Gracy Rodrigues, an Indian nun with the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity (the Canossians), is involved in rescuing child victims of trafficking.
She cannot forget her first rescue, in a place that “was stinking, polluted, dark and horror. I was shocked and yet my spirit desired for light, for comfort, a comfort to my people. I saw in the eyes of those innocent three children a cry for life. They were treated as slaves.”
She is active with the Movement of Women Religious Against Human Trafficking (AMRAT), a network of 52 religious congregations fighting slavery.
Today, the liturgical memorial of Saint Josephine Bakhita’s, is also the third international day of prayer and reflection against human trafficking, instituted by Pope Francis in 2015.
Pope John Paul II canonised Saint Bakhita (Lucky in Arabic) in 2000. Sudanese, she was kidnapped at an early age, sold in the markets of El Obeid and Khartoum, and victim of exploitation and abuse for years.
Speaking about her, the pope today said, “This enslaved, exploited and humiliated girl in Africa never lost hope, kept her faith, and ended up as a migrant to Europe. There she heeded the Lord’s calling and became a nun. Let us pray to Saint Josephine Bakhita for all migrants, refugees, and exploited who suffer a lot, a lot."
Sister Gracy writes that “Every two minutes, a child is being prepared for sexual exploitation,” so that “More than 200 million children today are child labourers,” 73 under “10 years of age”.
Several initiatives on behalf of ‘children, not slaves’ are set for today around the world, backed by Thalita Kum, an international network of Consecrated Life against trafficking in persons. Sister Gracy’s comment follows.
Family and community are extremely important as they play an important role in the upbringing of the children and in the making of civilization. On the contrary, Slavery is a dehumanizing, depraved system that seeks to reduce once worth and dignity and thus leads us into the culture of death. Today every corner of the society and the country we hear the cry of the children, “I am not safe.” Does this prick my conscience or do my ears hear this cry? Whenever I hear a cry of these children, be it on the streets, or slums, or remand homes, or platforms, my heart speaks to me, ‘Children they are, not slaves’.
Every two minutes, a child is being prepared for sexual exploitation. More than 200 million children today are child labourers. 73 million of these children are below 10 years of age. Every year 22 thousand die due to work accidents. Approximately 30 million children have lost their childhood through sexual exploitation over the past 30 years. They are trafficked for sexual exploitation, pornography production, forced marriage, illegal adoption, forced labour, and to become child soldiers. Trafficking clearly violates the fundamental right to a life of dignity.
Pope Francis says, “How I wish that all of us would hear Gods cry: where is your brother? (Gen. 4:9). Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where are the brothers and sisters whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouse, in rings of prostitutions, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labour? Let us not look the other way”.
The Asian Movement of Women Religious Against Human Trafficking (AMRAT) gives me ample of opportunities to collaborate and network with 52 religious congregations who are part of this Forum. As a consecrated person, God gives us a special gift of discernment. Discernment that leads us in making a choice, a choice that will make a difference into the lives of the poor, the destitute, the marginalized, the rejected, the victims of injustice and crime. It is rightly said “prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless”.
Every moment I think of the victims of human trafficking I feel it in my bones the cry for justice, a cry for humanity. Through the network of different organizations like International Justice Mission, Rescue Foundation, I got the opportunity of attending the rescue operation in red light areas. The first rescue operation was an experience that I cannot forget. The place was stinking, polluted, dark and horror. I was shocked and yet my spirit desired for light, for comfort, a comfort to my people. I saw in the eyes of those innocent three children a cry for life. They were treated as slaves. They pleaded and cried before us to be taken away, for they were beaten, burnt, kicked, cheated and looted by the pimp owners. I thought the process of relieving them would be faster, but it took the whole night to relieve these children. This experience has left a mark in my heart which will always move me towards justice and love for the less fortunate, the forgotten, the lost, the least and the unknown.
When international police chiefs and religious figures pledged in the Vatican to work together to fight modern-day slavery, Pope Francis addressed them and described human trafficking as "a crime against humanity." Yes, it is a crime against humanity, especially the children, because their childhood is robbed and they are enslaved in the flesh trade. Do they have a right to enjoy their childhood with dignity? Children they are and not slaves.
My encounters with the victims of human trafficking have challenged my life style today. It has awakened my call to work for the less advantaged and be on their side no matter what the cost. I pray that God Almighty grant each one of us the grace of carrying forward the delicate, humanitarian and Christian mission, of healing the open and painful wounds of humanity, which are also Christ's wounds. Today let us be awakened from the slumber and arise to be the voice of the voiceless and join hands with many people who work for the rescue of children from different forms of slavery.
AMRAT has planned various programmes in bringing the awareness on this issue of human trafficking. For example, Seminars, visits to the Children’s homes, Meetings with the commercial sex workers, awareness session and prayer services in schools and colleges, celebration of orange day, Training of Bill on anti-Human trafficking to the members of AMRAT, street plays, trainings to the local police, opportunities for communal prayers and cultural events and networks with government organizations and rotary clubs are being planned.
AMRAT members feel that our awareness must expand on the issue of human trafficking and extend to the very depths of this evil and its farthest reaches from awareness to prayer from prayer to solidarity and from solidarity to concrete action, until slavery and trafficking are terminated.
As we remember our Universal Sr. Josephine Bakhita and all the victims of human trafficking we humbly prayer to our lord: “O God, when we hear of children and adults being deceived and taken to unknown places for purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labor, and organ ‘harvesting’, our hearts are saddened and our spirits angry, that their dignity and rights are ignored through threats, lies, and force.
We cry out against the evil practice of this modern slavery, and pray with St. Bakhita for it to end.
Give us wisdom and courage to reach out and stand with those whose bodies, hearts and spirits have been so wounded, so that together we may make real your promises to fill these sisters and brothers with a love that is tender and good.
Send the exploiters away empty-handed to be converted from this wickedness, and help us all to claim the freedom that is your gift to your children.
*Member of the Daughters of Charity
(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)