South African Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town, Bishop Abel Gabuza of Kimberley, Bishop Duncan Tsoke auxiliary of Johannesburg and Fr Peter-John Pearson, Director of the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office of the Southern Africans Catholic Bishops' Conference, joined the Mozambican Episcopal Conference and a high powered delegation from the Mozambican law enforcement agencies led by the Chief of Police, for the Second Regional Conference on Trafficking in Persons in Maputo from 8-10th March 2018. Fr Peter-John reflects on the conference an its outcomes.
Participants at the conference included members of the Santa Marta Group, a group that seeks to engage Church leaders and heads of law enforcement agencies across the world in fighting this form of contemporary slavery. It meets to share best practices, seeking to leverage political will to combat trafficking in persons (TIP) as well as providing a strong moral framework for this campaign.
The UN and other experts estimate that some 27m people are in trafficked situations, with around 12.7m of these in some form of bonded labour. It is understood that trafficking for labour is now the most common form of modern day slavery. It is one of the fastest growing illicit industries, alongside the narcotics trade and the illegal arms trade. It is estimated to be worth about $32b per annum.
Pope Francis has frequently singled out this phenomenon for condemnation. In 2017 he said that “human trafficking is getting worse and that in some instances evidence brings one to doubt the real commitment of some important players.”
The conference, in response to this dire situation, explored and analysed the increase in human trafficking and the ever growing sophistication of the trafficker’s modus operandi. There was also rich discussion around the policies, policing strategies and pastoral responses that have emerged to counter the phenomenon. There was considerable reference to the three P’s that guide efforts to rid countries of this scourge. They are prevention, protection and prosecution.
Themes discussed ranged from the steady increase in detecting TIP syndicates, an increase in prosecutions with more stringent sentences in both countries, cultural practices which conceal trafficking and corruption amongst officials which allows traffickers to ply their trade with impunity. The discussions highlighted the need to ensure that responses proceeded from a victim oriented stand point.
On the positive side, many reported that a spirit of co-operation existed at multiple levels ranging from increased sharing of information between civil society organisations and with law enforcement agencies. It also included growing collaboration in areas of protection for victims. It was noted that co-operation takes place across religious and denominational grounds which provide a positive profile for the religious sectors engagement with the response to this crime
Both South Africa and Mozambique are on Tier2 of the US’s Trafficking in Persons 2017 Report. This means that both countries are considered to be doing reasonably well in combating trafficking and are holding to the basic protocols. In Mozambique’s case it marks an upgrade from the lower Tier 2 Watch List. Part of the criticism leveled at both countries is that the official efforts are not sufficiently budgeted for and that mechanisms for detecting and monitoring compliance with various labour laws and international labour agreements, are not pursued rigorously enough. There is also criticism around the fact that almost all cases which have been prosecuted have revolved around sexual trafficking whilst very few have been for labour trafficking. It is alleged that in both countries the identification screenings for signs of trafficking is less stringent for labour trafficking.
Neither country has been able to rid themselves of the stigma of corruption amongst law enforcement agencies, border personnel and ordinary people who become complicit in big or small ways as part of a daily survival strategy. Both countries acknowledged that they had made significant gains in the fight against human trafficking but that they had a formidable amount of work before them, if they wished to make even a dent in the present situation.