Catholic Priest in South Africa Calls for “tight networking” to End Human Trafficking

Fr. Peter John Pearson. Credit: Sheila Pires

There is need for “tight networking” that involves the sharing of information among stakeholders to bring an end to human trafficking, the Director of the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office (CPLO) of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) has said.

In an interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Peter John Pearson said that such anti-human trafficking network is a necessary response to the business of trading people, which is “very organized”.

“Tight networking is needed because the people who run these smuggling rings are usually very organized,” Fr. Pearson said, adding that those involved in human trafficking are “not your kind of fly by night backyard dealers in trafficking.”

The Catholic Priest who is a member of the Santa Marta Group, an alliance of international police chiefs and Bishops from around the world working together with civil society entities in a process endorsed by Pope Francis said the “tight networking” he is proposing has to involve legal practitioners.

“Part of what we need is a lot more judges talking to each other about how to develop a jurisprudence around convictions,” Fr. Pearson told ACI Africa during the Thursday, May 26 interview.


He also underscored the significant place of law enforcement agents in the proposed networking, saying, “We need police above all, and law enforcement agencies to be able to follow through on these things.”

The law enforcement agents, Fr. Pearson said, would be expected “to resist the bribes, and all those side deals that happen in many parts of the world; they need to be able to resist that.”

He went on to say that the demand for human organs and labor in some industries are creating a new demand in the human trafficking market, adding that the most vulnerable and poor members of the society are the most targeted.

“There has been a shift from only trafficking for sexual purposes, to trafficking for labor, pure exploitative slave labor,” the CPLO Director told ACI Africa May 26.

He made reference to remarks made by some members of the Santa Marta Group during a recent three-day conference held at the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences in the Vatican's Casina that revealed how those trafficked are “exploited horribly”.

More in Africa

Fr. Pearson said in reference to the May 17-19 conference, “We were listening to people who are working in countries around the North Sea and they told us about how people from Africa, South America and from Eastern Europe fall prey to great offers of employment only to be exploited horribly in the fishing industry.”

He went on to call upon business persons and faith-based communities to investigate their sources of supply in products such as fish as this information can contribute to ending human trafficking.

Making reference to suppliers of fish, Fr. Pearson said, “We need to also ask, do these people have a background in trafficking? Are there suspicions? Is there a lack of disclosure in the tendering process that should raise red flags? These are the things that we are also looking at.”

The member of the Santa Marta Group expressed his concerns about the rise in the trafficking of parts of human bodies, the target being places “where poverty is so glaringly rife”.

He said, “One of the big things, and we also heard this from our colleagues in Mozambique, is the spike in the trafficking of body parts. People are trafficking body parts; they target areas where poverty is so glaringly rife.”


“A kidney for instance, is one of the most sought for body parts. And it's not people who are being treated and operated in first world hospitals. I mean, it's just gross,” Fr. Pearson told ACI Africa during the May 26 interview.

The CPLO Director recalled the remarks of Pope Francis when he addressed participants in the Santa Marta Group Conference saying, “The Holy Father mentioned in his talk with us about the rise of trafficking of body parts in many parts of the world.”

“It’s not just sexual exploitation, its labor exploitation, trade of body parts; these are the three spikes in the trafficking world. And all three are just so dehumanizing and so painful in every sphere,” Fr. Pearson said. 

He continued, “We have got to work to ensure that the political will, and I don't only mean that, in terms of legislation, but, that there is a political will to fight this scourge. This scourge is very close to the Holy Father's heart, and that's why he always joins us for the session or meets with us, as he did this time, at the end of the conference.”

According to a 27 March 2017 report by the Global Financial Integrity, a Washington, DC-based think tank focused on illicit financial flows, corruption, illicit trade and money laundering, trade in human organs is becoming just as large-scale and profitable as trade in illicit drugs, wildlife and weapons, producing annual profit of some $1.7 billion US dollars.

(Story continues below)

In the May 26 interview with ACI Africa, the CPLO Director called upon faith communities to continue engaging political leaders in ensuring that policies that are able to prosecute human traffickers are put in place.

He continued, “Prosecution isn't everything, but you've got to look at things that deter, and one of the things, one of the areas of prosecution, is around finances; people do these hideous things, because they want the financial gain, and the stakes are high.”

“So, one's got to put legislation in place, one's got to put policies in place, one's got to put training in place; that allows not only the apprehension of the trafficker on the main road in the red-light district, but also the people who organize at the networking level”, Fr. Pearson told ACI Africa. 

He added, “There needs to be very close monitoring of financial shifts. So, we've got to work with the financial institutions to monitor shifts; we've seen it in areas where people are being held accountable for issues around war. This is another form of war.”

“Traffickers are always three steps ahead; so, one's got to develop sound policing, intelligence. There’s a need to develop coordinated intelligence because the networks of trafficking are just so far ahead, and we've got to up the game,” Fr. Pearson told ACI Africa during the May 26 interview.

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.