Vatican City, Dec 2, 2014 / 10:24 am
Leaders of the world's major religions came together at the Vatican on Tuesday to sign a common declaration condemning slavery and urging the world to action, and were addressed by Pope Francis.
"We, the undersigned, are gathered here today for a historic initiative to inspire spiritual and practical action by all global faiths and people of good will everywhere to eradicate modern slavery across the world by 2020 and for all time," the Dec. 2 declaration read.
Arranged by the Global Freedom Network, an organization founded by Catholic, Anglican and Muslim leaders to eradicate human trafficking, the signing of the Declaration Against Slavery was attended by leaders of seven of the world's largest religious traditions.
The declaration was signed by Pope Francis and by representatives of the Orthodox Church, Anglicans, Jews, Muslims, Buddhhists, and Hindus.
"In the eyes of God, each human being is a free person, whether girl, boy, woman or man, and is destined to exist for the good of all in equality and fraternity," the declaration read.
"Modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labor and prostitution, organ trafficking, and any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity, is a crime against humanity."
The religious leaders pledged themselves to do everything within their power to fight for the freedom of all enslaved and trafficked persons with the help of their religious communities. With today's advances in technology, innovation, awareness and wisdom, signatories said it is a realistic "human and moral" goal.
The Global Freedom Network's partner Walk Free released a report in November saying that 35.8 million people suffer in slavery, defined as the systematic deprivation of a person's liberty, and abuse of their body for personal or commercial exploitation.
Modern slavery includes forced labor, debt bondage, trafficking in persons, organ trafficking, sexual exploitation for money, and forced marriage.
Mauritania, Uzbekistan, Haiti, Qatar, India, Pakistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have the highest prevalence of slavery, the report said.
South Asia has the largest number of people in slave conditions: an estimated 17.5 million people.
However, the report estimates that there are about 61,000 people in slave conditions in the U.S. These include forced and exploitative labor practices, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and as many as 3,000 cases of forced marriage across a two-year period.
The report said increased instability in Central America has driven more people into the United States who are more vulnerable to slavery.
The International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency dedicated to labor issues, has estimated that forced labor generates profits equivalent to $150 billion each year.
The Global Freedom Network has advocated work to end modern slavery through mobilizing faith communities, examining business supply chains to ensure ethical products, more care for victims and survivors of slavery, legal reforms and better enforcement, and more education about the crimes.
The anti-slavery effort is using the social media hashtag #EndSlavery.
In his speech for the event, Pope Francis declared that "each human being – man, woman, boy or girl, is the image of God, (so) all people are equal and should be granted the same freedom and the same dignity."
"Any discriminatory relationship that does not respect the fundamental conviction that others are equal is a crime, and frequently an aberrant crime."
Pope Francis observed that in each of the leaders' creeds, every instance of human trafficking, forced labor, child labor, drug use, prostitution, and the sale of organs "is a crime against humanity."
He lamented the fact that the phenomenon is still growing throughout the world, and noted that it often takes place "hidden behind closed doors, in private households, in the streets, in cars, factories, fields, fishing boats and in many other places."
Each enslaved person needs the world's help, the Roman Pontiff noted, whether it is an abandoned elderly person, a worker, a refugee caught in evil practices, a man or woman victimized by the sex trade or lured into prostitution by the false promises of others, or children "mutilated" for their organs.
All of them, he said, "call on our consciences by echoing the voice of the Lord: I assure you that every time they did it to one of my brothers, they did it to me."
Pope Francis thanked all the participants for their presence and commitment to ending modern slavery in all its forms, and called on every religion, religious leader, government, business, and person of good will to offer their support.
"We are all a reflection of the image of God and we are convinced that we cannot tolerate that the image of the living God is subjected to the most aberrant trafficking."