U.S. ambassador to the Holy See Ken Hackett has praised the attention Pope Francis is giving to the “scourge” of human trafficking, and spoke of collaborative initiatives aimed at its eradication.
“These days when the Pope speaks on any issue it raises the attention level worldwide, and he has done that specifically with human trafficking calling it a ‘scourge,’” the ambassador told CNA June 27.
“I actually saw the note he wrote to one of the archbishops who heads the Pontifical Academy (of Sciences) saying, ‘What are you doing about this?’ So the Pope has given this special attention.”
Hackett serves as the 10th U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See after his nomination last fall, and spoke regarding the U.S. State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report, which was released by the embassy June 20.
The annual report provides an assessment of 188 countries in terms of what they are doing to combat human trafficking in preventative and educational terms, as well as the assistance offered to recovered victims.
“The U.S. government has been interested in this for a long time,” as well as the embassy itself, Hackett said. The two countries collaborated when, in his second week in office, “we convened a meeting with anyone we could find in and around the Vatican who was dealing with the issue of human trafficking and brought them together to share their experiences.”
Hackett noted how the Pontifical Council of Sciences has organized two meetings in the last six months to address the issue with international law enforcement officials. The embassy has also partnered with both the Global Freedom Network and Talitha Kum.
Talitha Kum is a group of women religious who collaborate to fight human trafficking. The U.S. embassy to the Holy See recently partnered with them in their most recent campaign against trafficking for the World Cup, entitled “Play for Life, against Human Trafficking.”
Hackett also noted how the embassy is working with the the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to “beef up their work on human trafficking in the United States.”
“Even in the United States we’re still faced with those kind of issues. We’re not above it,” the ambassador admitted. “Prostitution, moving of people for forced labor, all exists within the United States as well as the rest of the world.”
Referring to how the report identified the trafficking of persons onto fishing vessels as a growing phenomenon being uncovered, Hackett stated that “It’s like something right out of the 18th century.”
“People are taken on board boats, their passports are taken and they work on those boats virtually as slaves,” he explained, observing how the Vatican organization the Apostleship of the Sea is putting forth great efforts “to work on that particular issue.”
There is a growing danger of trafficking in war and conflict zones due to the increased numbers of persons fleeing violence, paricularly in Syria and Iraq, Hackett said.
A conflit zone “is fertile ground,” he said, because “when the situation is de-stabilized that’s when bad things happen.”
Hackett affirmed that the embassy will be continue to be involved in fighting sex trafficking. A third international meeting organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is already slated to take place between Vatican and civil law enforcement officials.
“We have great hopes that it will continue to raise the attention level worldwide to this scourge and encourage governments and other organizations to do more to eliminate this terrible evil.”