Many believe that slavery is an ancient problem that was banished in the 19th century. Not so, according to the Vatican and leading international officials.
“Estimates of the problem of modern slavery today run as high as 27 million people,” Luis CdeBaca, a special advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama told a Vatican conference May 18.
“In some parts of the world you’re talking about as much as 1 in 350 who are suffering due to debt bondage, involuntary servitude or forced prostitution. … Unfortunately, we’ve yet to find a country it does not touch,” he added.
The event at the Vatican’s Palazzo della Cancelleria drew religious leaders, law makers and academics to discuss the problem of “modern slavery.” It was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and Miami’s St. Thomas School of Law.
Monsignor Franklyn Casale, president of St. Thomas, said that Catholicism’s global network of female religious is proving crucial in the fight against modern-day slavery.
“They have been working with victims of human trafficking for a long, long time and they’re the ones that have been at the forefront of pushing others and getting something done legislatively in the corporate world and introducing it into the academic area as well,” he said.
U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) told the conference about U.S. anti-trafficking laws, which he said are rooted in Christian principles.
“We are our own brothers and sisters keepers and nationality really shouldn’t get in the way of living up to Matthew 25 and protecting ‘the least of our brethren,’” he said.
Rep. Smith’s “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Law” first became U.S. law in 2000. It’s been renewed three times since. Amongst other things, it ranks countries according to their human rights record on trafficking and can impose non-humanitarian sanctions against offenders. Congressman Smith says it’s now time to get tough with one of the biggest offenders – China.
“China is trafficking like never before,” he said. “It’s a direct consequence of their one-child-per-couple policy and its reliance on forced abortion and sex-selection abortion. China is missing over 100 million girls who have been systemically eliminated in pursuit of this one-child-per-couple policy.”
Smith said that human traffickers are thriving on the resulting imbalance between men and women.
“So in come the traffickers, the bride-sellers and they’re bringing in women from Asian countries and they’re reaching out even further to bring these women into China. It will only get worse.”
Despite the significant obstacles, Ambassador Luis CdeBaca says the battle against modern-day slavery can and will be won.
“Frankly if you go back 150 to 200 years, if (English abolitionist) William Wilberforce had given up hope or if Abraham Lincoln had given up hope, slavery would still be legal and a third of the world would still enslaved. They didn’t give up hope and we can’t either.”