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At Conference in Ghana, Clergy, Religious Vow to End Human Trafficking in Region

Participants at the June 1-5 Talitha Kum workshop on collaboration and networking to combat human trafficking in Africa. Credit: Damian Avevor

Members of the Clergy, Religious, and Laity who took part in a recent conference in Ghana’s capital city, Accra, vowed to do all it takes to strengthen existing networks and build new connections to tackle the problem of human trafficking in the West African region.  

During the five-day conference that concluded June 5, participants drawn from the West African countries of Ghana, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso noted that amid COVID-19 challenges, human traffickers have continued their activities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the scourge of human trafficking. Traffickers prey upon the most vulnerable and look for opportunities to exploit them,” said Sr. Monica Onwunali.

The member of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles in Nigeria noted that as the entire world came to a standstill when COVID-19 hit, human traffickers found a playground to conduct their crime freely.

The conference brought together participants from the three West African countries who are members of Talitha Kum, an international group of women and men Religious who have come together for the purpose of fighting against human trafficking.

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During the conference, participants agreed that the conditions human traffickers subject their victims to are totally inhuman and unacceptable and outlined a seven-point “Action Plan” to improve communications among West African countries where the scourge seems to be felt the most.   

“We also resolved to start online prayer services among the countries affected in order to intercede for the end to this vice,” Sr. Onwunali said.

Participants in the conference also noted that seasoned human traffickers are taking advantage of the economic crisis and poor living standards to recruit other accomplices, promising them a good life.   

Sr. Onwunali explained, “Seeking to escape dire poverty, most people are unaware that they are being recruited by traffickers.”

Migrants, she said, are the most vulnerable since they view the services offered by smugglers as a perfect way to get out of their impoverished countries.

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“Steps to boost networking among religious communities can lead to long-lasting professional relationships that strengthen efforts to disrupt trafficking networks,” said Sr. Philomena Okwu.

The member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul who coordinates the Committee for the Support of the Dignity of Women in Nigeria told participants that networking helps them craft their stories to assist in daily communications and social channels.

Fr. Richard Acheampong of Ghana’s Archdiocese of Kumasi said Catholic teaching underscores the value of human dignity adding that trafficking violates the sacredness of life.

“Human life deserves to be protected and nurtured. We each have a responsibility to fight against violation and degradation of our brothers and sisters,” Fr. Acheampong said.

Jesuit Father Cornelius Apili who is an assistant director and program officer at the Arrupe Jesuit Institute in Accra said human trafficking is anchored in the reality of poverty in countries.

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People, said Fr Apili, have the pervasive desire to migrate in search for a better livelihood either within or without their respective countries or the region.   

“We must join our voices together in advocating for a change of mindset for our leaders,” he said.

The Jesuit Priest called on religious institutions, nongovernment organizations and concerned individuals to alert government officials “to wake up to the reality of human trafficking.”

Salesian Missions, the U.S.-based development arm of the Religious Institute of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) is also carrying out anti-human trafficking campaigns in West African countries by offering educational forums and civic education.

During this year’s St. Bakhita Feast Day, Pope Francis asked the Catholic Church across the world to pray for alleviation of human trafficking across the world saying coronavirus has “exacerbated and worsened the conditions of labor exploitations.”

According to information posted on African Sisters Education Collaborative website, cases of modern-day slavery are spiking across the world. Statistics, according to the report, show that out of 1,000 people in Africa, seven are victims of modern-day slavery.