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Human trafficking is a faith issue

Swaziland is a source, destination, and transit country for vulnerable people subjected to human trafficking. While initially overlooked, the country has increased efforts to prevent this scourge on its people and to protect victims and faith based organisations are working at the forefront.

Round tables are designated to facilitate dialogue and participation in public life. They inform opinion, deepen knowledge and clarify concepts and for the Catholic Church in the Kingdom of  Swaziland, round tables are a participatory process. that must tackle some of the biggest problems facing the country including human trafficking.

Though a small presence in the country, for decades the Catholic Church has been running many projects regarding health, education and poverty alleviation among others and this year has seen an increase in the Church’s civil involvement. Through awareness gatherings in different parts of the country this year saw us more involved in issues of gender-based violence and human trafficking and through the initiative of having round tables, we are able to create new spaces for dialogue and participation; spaces where different voices can engage and be heard.

In partnership with the Dennis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) and with the support of the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office (CPLO) the  Church in Swaziland was able to bring together members of parliament, faith leaders, youth, priests, religious and other invited guests to discuss Faith in the fight of Human Trafficking. DHPI director Danisa Khumalo noted that the event was not only the first for the Church in Swaziland, but also the first where the tables were in fact round!

A global problem

And like round tables are widespread, so too is human trafficking. Swaziland is not exception in the global plague that manifests in a number of forms, according to Fr Peter-John Pearson, director of the CPLO. “Slavery, in fact, is not a footnote that happened hundred of years’ ago. It is something that has continued unbroken and it is manifested today in the trafficking in persons.”

He explained that people are delivered, recruited, transported, transferred, harboured, sold, exchanged or leased within or across the borders of South Africa. “There is a threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim.”

“The victim has to be trafficked for the purpose of exploitation, which includes sexual exploitation, servitude, forced labour, child labour or the removal of body parts.”

He pointed out that the dehumanisation of people is the key starting point for our engagement against human trafficking. The dignity of the human person is the key on which we build all Christian ethics. Therefore the Church needs to stands up and say “no” to this unbelievable form of modern slavery and crime against humanity.

According to Inspector Zwakhele Dlamini from Manzini, Swaziland was initially in a “state of denial” until “we realised the number of people reported missing in our communities”. He indicated unemployment, child abuse (a child finding no alternative but to run away from violence at home), domestic violence (running away from an abusive husband) as some of the elements that facilitate human trafficking.

He then added that we should fool ourselves thinking it only happens between countries. “Inside our country a girl is taken from Lavumisa area and brought to Manzini for domestic servitude. She never gets paid at the end of the month.” It’s more common than one would think and there is a role for the Church to play.

The role of the Church

According to the Head of Secretariat on Human Trafficking Mrs Nompumelelo Lukhele, faith based organisations should be involved in prevention, protection and prosecution.  She said work must continue in awareness-raising programmes where members of each faith may be sensitised on issues surrounding trafficking in people as a preventative measure.

Should victims be found, there must be capacity to protect them through identification, care and assistance. This includes providing shelter, food, clothing, medical care as well as psychosocial, spiritual and counselling support. And finally, the Church can assist at the level of prosecution through case identification and reporting of cases.

The Catholic Church has worked across the continent in the fight against human trafficking; there is a wealth of knowledge that must be shared from country to country, said St Anne’s president Fikile Motsa who had attended a conference in Cameroon. Back home in Swaziland, she has worked to start awareness programmes and partner with government in the fight against human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a global issue, and is therefore an issue of faith. And with disturbing imagery of an active slave trade in Libya recently been made public, we have to work even harder now to ensure this doesn’t grow. As one attendee said: “[Human trafficking] is among us; we might even be promoting it by doing nothing”.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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José Luís Ponce de León
José-Luís Ponce de León IMC is bishop of the Diocese of Manzini, Swaziland. Argentinian by birth, for many years he worked as a missionary in rural Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. After working at the Consolata Missionary's General House in Rome, he returned to South Africa and was ordained bishop of Ingwavuma in 2008. In 2013 he was appointed bishop of Manzini.

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