Today, according to the United Nations, modern slavery is an illegal global organized crime that generates $150 billion a year in illegal profits. Currently, between 21 and 36 million people are held in human slavery.
Of those enslaved, 75 percent are forced to work without being paid, and 25 percent are sex slaves. On a smaller or a bigger scale it affects every country, and Lithuania is no exception.
First and foremost, we have to change mentality, as to how we think of each other, especially of those who struggle. We should stop putting the most vulnerable ones on the outskirts of society. Empathy and respect for a human being should be instilled from an early age on. Social responsibility should be a norm.
The issue of human slavery was addressed at the United Nations in New York City on April 7, 2016, at the conference Ending Human Trafficking by 2030: The Role of Global Partnerships in Eradicating Modern Slavery.
Two dozen panelists spoke during an over three-hour-long event with U.N. ambassadors from eight countries present and more than a couple hundred attendees. Lithuania was represented by the members of the Lithuanian diaspora, Monsignor Edmond J. Putrimas, Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference delegate for the Apostolate of Lithuanian Catholics living outside of Lithuania, from Canada; and Neila Baumilienė, director of the New York Bureau of the Kazickas Family Foundation, from the United States. The conference was co-organized by the Santa Marta Group, named after Pope Francis’ Vatican residence and founded by Pope himself in 2014, aiming to strengthen and coordinate the global response to combatting human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery.
James Cockayne of the United Nations University said that the actual cost of trafficking extends beyond the action of enslavement and trafficking. It causes depression, anxiety, vulnerability to re-trafficking for the victims, and long-lasting poverty and exclusion from education for their children. Intergenerational effects extend to entire community, drive down productivity and impose a cost that is borne by everyone. Fighting against slavery is morally and economically smart policy.
Donna Hubbard, Airlines Ambassadors International (AAI) trainer, American Airlines flight attendant and human trafficking survivor, shared her story of how she was trafficked and controlled, how she broke free only after she had been imprisoned and after a female guard recognized her as a victim, not a criminal. Donna presented best practices of the Airline Ambassadors program, including training of flight attendants to recognize human trafficking cases in the travel industry, as well as AAI’s TIP Line smartphone app as a premier reporting tool for human trafficking. Donna’s presentation prompted a standing ovation.
Dalia Grybauskaitė, President of Lithuania, attended the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015, when 193 U.N. Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At the invitation of the U.N. Secretary-General, Grybauskaitė, together with the presidents of Chile, Liberia and South Korea as well as with U.N. goodwill ambassadors, joined in the promotion of the sustainable development agenda. In a promotional clip, Grybauskaitė introduced one of the priorities—sustainable growth—SDG 8. U.N. goodwill ambassadors—Nobel Prize winner Malala, actors Daniel Craig and Charlize Theron, musician Stevie Wonder and scientist Stephen Hawking—also appear in the video. Picked by the president for the promotional video intentionally or not, SDG 8 states: “Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.” SDG 8.7 states: ”Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.”
The Conference focused on SDG targets 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2, which commit U.N. Member States to eliminate all forms of violence, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, was appointed by Pope Francis to lead the Santa Marta Group, an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops form 36 countries to eradicate human trafficking and modernday slavery. The group grew out of a partnership established in London in 2012 between the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, and the Metropolitan Police Service Human Trafficking unit. The Cardinal spoke about how women religious in London worked with Scotland Yard in an “unlikely partnership.” Early concerns that police would prosecute the victims faded over time as trust grew between the two groups.
Monique Villa, CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, presented the foundations’s numerous initiatives addressing the issue. First, banks (Chase, City Group, TD Bank, Barclays, Wells Fargo, Western Union, American Express, Bank of America) together with Manhattan District Attorney’s office and Thomson Reuters Foundation, agreed to screen bank transactions for red flags indicating human trafficking activity. Second, the Trust Women initiative will help female human trafficking victims find jobs and achieve professionally. Third, TrustLaw is a network of lawyers in 170 countries who provide pro bono services for solving human trafficking cases. Fourth, with the Stop Slavery Award, starting in November 2016, the world’s biggest companies will be engaged in the fight against forced labor. It is the first global accolade to recognize businesses that have excelled in efforts to try to eradicate forced labor from their supply chains. Fifth, Reporting Trafficking and Slavery is a weeklong seminar for professional journalists to recognize slavery, which remains among the world’s most under-reported stories. A sixth initiative will be detecting red flags in social media.
Mira Sorvino, an actress and a U.N. goodwill ambassador for the Global Fight Against Human Trafficking, said victims can not wait weeks or years. She compared the enormity of the problem with the scarcity of the response. She recalled her visit to Vatican, where she witnessed a gathering of representatives of all the religions of the world in one room “in love and unity” like a mirage when the issue of modern slavery was addressed. Sorvino appealed to President Obama to be the first president after Lincoln to leave the legacy of anti-slavery, saying, “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” With the CNN Freedom Project, CNN will join the fight to end modern-day slavery and shine a spotlight on its horrors, amplify the voices of the victims, highlight success stories and help unravel the complicated tangle of criminal enterprises trading in human life.
Sister Imelda Poole, president of Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation (RENATE), spoke and showed a short video, Called to Give a Voice to the Voiceless, illustrating various initiatives and actions of women religious and their co-workers in the 24 European countries that form the RENATE network. Poole called for international cooperation in three specific areas: the issue of demand; adopting legislation that criminalizes perpetrators, not victims; systems of corruption that give rise to human trafficking; and internet trafficking and criminal behavior on the internet.
Macharia Kamau, Kenya’s Ambassador to the U.N., said, “For us, those of us of color, this is not a modern phenomenon. It’s deeply rooted in our history for over 500 years. There is a monument outside, in the U.N. yard, dedicated to modern slavery. … It took almost 70 odd years to mobilize the gumption to put it there. You would not believe the amount of resistance we have faced over the past 10 years to have a monument to slavery, here at the U.N. We need to fundamentally reassess the way in which we are in modern society. We have to take structural responsibility for this, to undertake a transformation in our societies and economies. Issues of slavery have deeps roots in history and in our psychology. It represents a racism, misogyny, horrible prejudice that have warped the way in which the world functions.”
Bernardito Auza, archbishop and the permanent observer of the Vatican to the U.N., said that “the resurgence of slavery is one of the biggest tragedies of our time. It is a moral imperative to end it.”
Pope Francis, in a letter through Archbishop Auza to the participants of the Conference, wrote: “I extend greetings to you and to all those gathered to discuss the grave issue of modern slavery and human trafficking which continues to be the scourge throughout the world today. I am grateful to you and the members of the Santa Marta Group for your efforts in organizing this conference, and to the Member States and various governmental, civic, religious organizations committed to combatting this crime against humanity. As you reflect on the multifaceted issues which contribute to the modern slavery and human trafficking, I encourage you to strengthen the bonds of cooperation and communication which are essential to ending the suffering of many men, women and children who today are enslaved and sold as if they were a mere commodity. In this way solutions and preventative measures, can be promoted which will allow the evil to be addressed at every level of society. In your discussions, I hope also that you will keep before you the dignity of every person, and recognize in all your endeavors a true service to the poorest and most marginalized of society, who too often are forgotten and have no voice. In assuring you and all present of the steadfast commitment of the Catholic Church to fight against this crime, and to care for all its victims, I offer the promise of my prayers that Almighty God may bless and guide your efforts.”
How Do We Restore Human Dignity?
All around the world, population grows faster than the economy, people migrate from poor areas to more developed ones, from lands ravaged by nature’s disasters and wars, and criminals approach these vulnerable people with false promises of employment and hope that leads to sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery and servitude. Due to huge imbalance of power, the world has lost justice and harmony. This invisible crime deprives people of human dignity.
According to a 2015 U.S. Department of State report, Lithuania is a source, transit and destination country for women and girls subjected to sex trafficking, as well as a source and destination country for men subjected to labor trafficking. Observers estimate 40 percent of identified Lithuanian trafficking victims are women and girls subjected to sex trafficking within the country. Lithuanian women are also trafficking victims in Western Europe and Sweden. Lithuanian children and adults are increasingly forced to engage in criminal activities, such as shoplifting, theft and drug-selling in Nordic countries and Western Europe. Some Lithuanian men are subjected to forced labor in the United Kingdom and the United States, including in agriculture. Men from Bulgaria may be subjected to labor trafficking in Lithuania. The approximately 4,000 boys and girls institutionalized in state-run orphanages are especially vulnerable. Officials of several orphanages are allegedly complicit or willfully negligent to the sex trafficking of girls and boys under their care.
Everyone’s attention and care are needed to stop modern-day slavery. We demand cheap goods, clothes and services, but who pays for all this? Do we question the corporations we support when buying their goods? Are we looking for a label, “slave-free products?”
If you live in Lithuania, and buy new goods in second-hand stores, do you ever question where they came from? Chances are, they are stolen from stores in Western Europe by enslaved teenagers from Lithuania.
In Lithuania, the human services program Caritas provides social, psychological and legal assistance to children, women and men who are victims of human trafficking, and helps them learn new job and life skills. It looks to the community to help identify both victims and perpetrators, as in many cases the recruiters, pimps and victims are from the same or neighboring towns. They often grew up and lived near each other, and studied in the same schools.
For more information on human trafficking in Lithuania, visit anti-trafficking. lt. For information, help or to report suspicions about human trafficking, please call the Caritas 24-hour S.O.S. hotline at +370-679-61617.
Visą parą veikia Kovos su prekyba žmonėmis ir išnaudojimu centro SOS numeris +370 679 61617, skirtas konsultuoti, patarti ir informuoti nukentėjusius nuo įvairių prekybos žmonėmis formų, prostitucijos, seksualinės prievartos, pabėgusius nepilnamečius.
Šiuo numeriu skambinti kviečiami ir šeimų nariai, bet kokių tarnybų atstovai, įtariantis apie galimą išnaudojimo, smurto ar apgavystės atveją. Kovos su prekyba žmonėmis centro specialistų komanda – socialinė darbuotoja, psichologė ir teisininkas – pasiruošę padėti tiek Lietuvoje, tiek už jos ribų.
Publikuota: 2016m. balandžio mėn., “Bridges”.