(AsiaNews) - In his message for the 48th World Day of Peace, Francis
warned against becoming accomplices in the
many forms of modern slavery. Millions of people are sadly involved in "man's exploitation by man," forced by
violence into "slave labour, [. . .] men and women labourers, including minors, [who are] subjugated in different sectors, whether formally or informally", migrants and poor. In view of this, the pontiff issued an urgent "appeal to all men and women of good will, and all those
near or far, including the highest levels of civil institutions, who witness
the scourge of contemporary slavery" to take action against slavery.
"There is a need for just laws which are centred on the
human person, uphold fundamental rights and restore those rights when they have
been violated." For this to happen, there is also a need for international cooperation. Indeed, everyone has a "specific role and responsibilities, to practice acts of fraternity"
towards the victims of exploitation. This includes not buying "items which may
well have been produced by exploiting others" or carrying
out "everyday gestures - which have so much merit! - such
as offering a kind word, a greeting or a smile. These cost us nothing but they
can offer hope, open doors, and change the life of another person who lives
clandestinely; they can also change our own lives with respect to this reality."
Titled No longer slaves, but brothers and sisters,
the message says that despite the "growth in
our awareness" that slavery is "a crime against
humanity [that] has been formally abolished throughout the world, [. . .] the growing scourge of man's exploitation by man gravely damages the
life of communion and our calling to forge interpersonal relations marked by
respect, justice and love. This abominable phenomenon, which leads to contempt
for the fundamental rights of others and to the suppression of their freedom
and dignity, takes many forms."
This reality has existed since the beginning of human history. "In the account of the origins of the human family, the
sin of estrangement from God, from the father figure and from the brother,
becomes an expression of the refusal of communion. It gives rise to a culture
of enslavement (cf. Gen 9:25-27),
with all its consequences extending from generation to generation: rejection of
others, their mistreatment, violations of their dignity and fundamental rights,
and institutionalized inequality. Hence, the need for constant conversion to the
Covenant, fulfilled by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, in the confidence that
"where sin increased, grace abounded all the more... through Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:20-21). Christ, the beloved Son (cf. Mt 3:17), came to reveal the Father's
love for humanity. Whoever hears the Gospel and responds to the call to
conversion becomes Jesus' "brother,
sister and mother" (Mt 12:50),
and thus an adopted son of his
Father (cf. Eph 1:5)."
Nevertheless, the Good News is that we are "capable of redeeming human relationships, including
those between slaves and masters, by shedding light on what both have in
common: adoptive sonship and the bond of brotherhood in Christ. Jesus himself
said to his disciples: 'No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does
not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that
I have heard from my Father I have made known to you' (Jn 15:15)."
In the past, the pope said, "the institution of slavery was generally accepted and
regulated by law. This legislation dictated who was born free and who was born
into slavery, as well as the conditions whereby a freeborn person could lose
his or her freedom or regain it. In other words, the law itself admitted that
some people were able or required to be considered the property of other
people, at their free disposition. A slave could be bought and sold, given away
or acquired, as if he or she were a commercial product.
though the international community has adopted numerous agreements aimed at ending
slavery in all its forms, and has launched various strategies to combat this
phenomenon," too many people are still the victims of slavery.
"I think of the many men and women labourers, including minors,
subjugated in different sectors, whether formally or informally, in
domestic or agricultural workplaces, or in the manufacturing or mining
industry; whether in countries where labour regulations fail to comply with
international norms and minimum standards, or, equally illegally, in countries
which lack legal protection for workers' rights.
"I think also of the living
conditions of many migrants who,
in their dramatic odyssey, experience hunger, are deprived of freedom, robbed
of their possessions, or undergo physical and sexual abuse. In a particular
way, I think of those among them who, upon arriving at their destination after
a gruelling journey marked by fear and insecurity, are detained in at times inhumane
conditions. I think of those among them, who for different social, political
and economic reasons, are forced to live clandestinely. My thoughts also turn
to those who, in order to remain within the law, agree to disgraceful living
and working conditions, especially in those cases where the laws of a nation
create or permit a structural dependency of migrant workers on their employers,
as, for example, when the legality of their residency is made dependent on
their labour contract. Yes, I am thinking of 'slave labour'.
"I think also of persons forced into prostitution,
many of whom are minors, as well as male
and female sex slaves. I think of women forced into marriage, those sold
for arranged marriages and those bequeathed to relatives of their deceased
husbands, without any right to give or withhold their consent.
"Nor can I fail to think of
all those persons, minors and adults
alike, who are made objects of trafficking
for the sale of organs,
for recruitment as soldiers,
for begging, for illegal
activities such as the production and
sale of narcotics, or for disguised
forms of cross-border adoption.
"Finally, I think of all those
kidnapped and held captive by terrorist
groups, subjected to their purposes as combatants, or, above all in the
case of young girls and women, to be used as sex slaves. Many of these
disappear, while others are sold several times over, tortured, mutilated or killed."
Sadly, "Today, as in the past, slavery is rooted in a notion of the human person
which allows him or her to be treated as an object. [. . .[ Whether by coercion
or deception, or by physical or psychological duress, human persons created in
the image and likeness of God are deprived of their freedom, sold and reduced
to being the property of others. They are treated as means to an end.
"Alongside this deeper cause -
the rejection of another person's humanity - there are other causes which help
to explain contemporary forms of slavery. Among these, I think in the first place
of poverty, underdevelopment
and exclusion, especially when combined with a lack of access to education or scarce, even non-existent, employment opportunities. Not
infrequently, the victims of human trafficking and slavery are people who look
for a way out of a situation of extreme poverty; taken in by false promises of
employment, they often end up in the hands of criminal networks which organize
human trafficking. These networks are skilled in using modern means of
communication as a way of luring young men and women in various parts of the
"Another cause of slavery is corruption on the part of people
willing to do anything for financial gain. Slave labour and human trafficking often
require the complicity of intermediaries, be they law enforcement personnel,
state officials, or civil and military institutions. This occurs when money,
and not the human person, is at the centre of an economic system. Yes, the person,
made in the image of God and charged with dominion over all creation, must be
at the centre of every social or economic system. When the person is replaced
by mammon, a subversion of values occurs.
"Further causes of slavery
include armed conflicts, violence, criminal activity and terrorism.
Many people are kidnapped in order to be sold, enlisted as combatants, or
sexually exploited, while others are forced to emigrate, leaving everything
behind: their country, home, property, and even members of their family. They
are driven to seek an alternative to these terrible conditions even at the risk
of their personal dignity and their very lives; they risk being drawn into that
vicious circle which makes them prey to misery, corruption and their baneful consequences."
To defeat slavery, a joint
effort is needed, the pope writes. "Often, [. . .], one has the impression that
they occur within a context of general indifference. [. . .] Yet I would like
to mention the enormous and often silent efforts which have been made for many
years by religious congregations,
especially women's congregations, to provide support to victims. These
institutes work in very difficult situations, dominated at times by violence,
as they work to break the invisible chains binding victims to traffickers and
exploiters. Those chains are made up of a series of links, each composed of clever
psychological ploys which make the victims dependent on their exploiters. [. .
.] The activity of religious congregations is carried out in three main areas:
in offering assistance to victims, in working for their psychological and
educational rehabilitation, and in efforts to reintegrate them into the society
where they live or from which they have come.
"This immense task, which
calls for courage, patience and perseverance, deserves the appreciation of the
whole Church and society. Yet, of itself, it is not sufficient to end the scourge
of the exploitation of human persons. There is also need for a threefold
commitment on the institutional level:
to prevention, to victim protection and to the legal prosecution of perpetrators.
Moreover, since criminal organizations employ global networks to achieve their goals,
efforts to eliminate this phenomenon also demand a common and, indeed, a global
effort on the part of various sectors of society.
must ensure that their own legislation truly respects
the dignity of the human person in the areas of migration, employment,
adoption, the movement of businesses offshore and the sale of items produced by
slave labour. There is a need for just laws which are centred on the human
person, uphold fundamental rights and restore those rights when they have been
violated. Such laws should also provide for the rehabilitation of victims,
ensure their personal safety, and include effective means of enforcement which
leave no room for corruption or impunity. The role of women in society must
also be recognized, not least through initiatives in the sectors of culture and
organizations, in keeping with the principle of subsidiarity, are
called to coordinate initiatives for combating the transnational networks of
organized crime which oversee the trafficking of persons and the illegal trafficking
of migrants. Cooperation is clearly needed at a number of levels, involving
national and international institutions, agencies of civil society and the
world of finance.
"Businesses have a duty to ensure dignified working conditions
and adequate salaries for their employees, but they must also be vigilant that
forms of subjugation or human trafficking do not find their way into the
distribution chain. Together with the social responsibility of businesses,
there is also the social
responsibility of consumers. Every person ought to have the awareness
that "purchasing is always a moral - and not simply an economic - act."
years," the pope said, "the Holy See, attentive to the pain of the victims of
trafficking and the voice of the religious congregations which assist them on
their path to freedom, has increased its appeals to the international community
for cooperation and collaboration between different agencies in putting an end
to this scourge," the pope urges "everyone, in accordance with his or her specific role
and responsibilities, to practice acts of fraternity towards those kept in a
state of enslavement. Let us ask ourselves, as individuals and as communities,
whether we feel challenged when, in our daily lives, we meet or deal with
persons who could be victims of human trafficking, or when we are tempted to
select items which may well have been produced by exploiting others. Some of
us, out of indifference, or financial reasons, or because we are caught up in
our daily concerns, close our eyes to this. Others, however, decide to do
something about it, to join civic associations or to practice small, everyday
gestures - which have so much merit! - such as offering a kind word, a greeting
or a smile. These cost us nothing but they can offer hope, open doors, and
change the life of another person who lives clandestinely; they can also change
our own lives with respect to this reality.
"We ought to recognize that we
are facing a global phenomenon which exceeds the competence of any one
community or country. In order to eliminate it, we need a mobilization
comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself. For this reason I urgently
appeal to all men and women of good will, and all those near or far, including
the highest levels of civil institutions, who witness the scourge of
contemporary slavery, not to become accomplices to this evil, not to turn away
from the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, who are
deprived of their freedom and dignity. Instead, may we have the courage to
touch the suffering flesh of Christ, revealed in the faces of those countless
persons whom he calls "the least of these my brethren" (Mt 25:40, 45).
"We know that God will ask each
of us: What did you do for your brother? (cf. Gen 4:9-10). The globalization of indifference, which today burdens
the lives of so many of our brothers and sisters, requires all of us to forge a
new worldwide solidarity and fraternity capable of giving them new hope and
helping them to advance with courage amid the problems of our time and the new
horizons which they disclose and which God places in our hands."