When you live in a country that is one of the most stable in the world, where the vast majority of us can go about our business without the daily fear of attack or abuse and corruption in our law enforcement and legal system is rare, it is incredibly difficult to imagine what it must be like for the hundreds of millions of people elsewhere who cannot enjoy these luxuries. But just because we are not immediately affected by these grave injustices, it gives us absolutely no excuse to ignore these evils that devastate the lives of too many around the world.
Slavery is illegal in every country, yet millions are enslaved by vicious criminals, archaic traditions and brutal greed. As news media uncover shocking stories of modern-day slavery, more and more people are waking up to the need to take action.The reasons why slavery still exists are complex. In many countries the fight against slavery is not a priority. In some countries, existing laws are not being enforced. In some countries, certain forms of slavery are so common that they are almost considered normal.
Christians are called to fight for the dignity and freedom of every individual. After Jesus had emerged from the desert and began his ministry he gave his now famous manifesto:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18,19)
It is therefore a significant and welcome development that the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches have united to establish a ground-breaking ecumenical initiative to combat modern slavery and human trafficking with the full backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis.
The Global Freedom Network in partnership with the international anti-slavery Walk Free Foundation will call for urgent action by all Christian Churches and Global Faiths to work together to address the searing personal destructiveness of modern-day slavery and human trafficking. In response to the launch, Justin Welby gave this announcement:
“Anglicans and Roman Catholics have, since 1966, been in serious and prayerful dialogue with each other, to seek the unity that Christ wills for his church in the world. Jesus has said “ May they all be one,” and this imperative has inspired and sustained the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, and the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, for many years as an act of faith.
“We are now being challenged in these days to find more profound ways of putting our ministry and mission where our faith is; and being called into a deeper unity on the side of the poor and in the cause of the justice and righteousness of God. For this reason, the new Global Freedom Network is being created to join the struggle against modern slavery and human trafficking from a faith base, so that we might witness to God’s compassion and act for the benefit of those who are abducted, enslaved and abused in this terrible crime.
“Many are already engaged in the struggle and we join them with much to learn as well as much to contribute. All are called to join common cause to end this crime and suffering. The more we share the pain and oppression of the poor and suffering in the name of God, the more God will draw us closer to each other, because we will need each other’s strength and support to make the kind of difference that is needed. We are struggling against evil in secret places and in deeply entrenched networks of malice and cruelty. No one of us is strong enough, but together we are ready for the challenge God is placing before us today, and we know that he will strengthen us so that all people may live in freedom and dignity.”
Historians tell us that about 11 million slaves were taken forcefully from Africa during the four hundred years of the trans-atlantic slave trade. This is less than half the number of people globally held in slavery right now.
For too long it has been an often hidden modern epidemic that has gone beneath the radar of the international community. Taking the example of forced prostitution alone, this highly profitable global business that generates an estimated $18.5 billion in developing world countries involves between 4 and 11 million victims. However it was only in the 1990s that Human Rights Watch and a few other small advocacy organisations began to bring this global horror to light. According to Gary Haugen, the founder of International Justice Mission (IJM), when his Christian organisation began bringing sex-trafficking survivors to share their stories with the US government in 1998, the problem was received as if it were new. As pointed out at one of the highest level United Nations forums convened to address trafficking in 2008: “For a universally condemned, but globally evident issue, surprisingly little is known about human traffickers – those who enable or partake in the trade and exploitation of individual human beings.”
The church as a global community has a unique role to play in combating these crimes, especially in countries where slavery and trafficking are prevalent by seeing and reporting what is going on and working to change hearts and attitudes. As awareness increases, so does the call to action. There is no excuse to walk by on the other side of the road when this evil corruption is exposed. In the joint statement by the Global Freedom Network signatories meeting at the Vatican yesterday, this was said:
‘Any indifference to those suffering exploitation must cease. We call to action all people of faith and their leaders, all governments and people of goodwill, to join the movement against modern slavery and human trafficking and support the Global Freedom Network.
‘Only by activating, all over the world, the ideals of faith and of shared human values can we marshal the spiritual power, the joint effort and the liberating vision to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking from our world and for all time. This evil is manmade and can be overcome by faith-inspired human will and human effort.’
For those of us to whom this applies let us pray that it will be so and then act accordingly.