Holy Mass offered for the victims of Human Trafficking.

Today is World Day against Trafficking in Persons.

Human trafficking is one of the world largest crimes against humanity. Yet unfortunately, it goes unnoticed by the majority of the society.

For us in the Catholic Church, we have a saint who is dedicated to the cause against Human Trafficking. St. Josephine Bakhita who was kidnapped and sold at the age of seven, went through the same human struggle as a trafficked victim.

At the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita this year, Pope Francis called everyone to pray and reflect against human trafficking, encouraging everyone not to be complicit in modern-day slavery.

As some of you know, Pope Francis attaches enormous importance to the plight of the millions of men and children who are trafficked and enslaved. In 2015, addressing the United Nations, the Holy Father stated that evil like human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution cannot be met by solemn commitments alone.

He said we need to ensure that our institutions and indeed all our efforts are truly effective in the struggle against all the scourges.

In Sri Lanka, our story and our coordinated efforts against human trafficking and smuggling had been a futile endeavor. During the civil war, the recruitment of child soldiers by LTTE and the government complicit behavior in letting a pro-government paramilitary organization recruit, sometimes forcibly child soldiers are a few instances where we kept a blind eye towards human trafficking.

Though over the past few years the government has made a significant effort to counter trafficking, the country was downgraded to tier 2 watch list by the 2019 US Department of State’s “Trafficking in Persons Report, especially failing to provide or undertake any specific measures in the area of law enforcement and convicting more traffickers.

During the GAATW Research conducted by Caritas Sri Lanka recently, one of the saddest key findings was that even the sexually abused women have come to believe, in their own sentiments “ what to do? If you need to earn money abroad, you should be ready to face sexual exploitations, rapes or any other molestation.” Extremely sad to note that such horrific acts have become ordinary mischief in the minds of these vulnerable migrants.

Human trafficking, in fact, is the second-largest criminal enterprise in the world, after drug smuggling and arms dealing. Human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery, generates an estimated $150 – 200 billion in annual profits according to the International Labour Organization.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people are trafficked, the majority of whom are women and children, often being used for commercial sexual exploitation and manual labour. There are an estimated 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally in addition to the 68 million refugees. Globally, there are 4.5 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation. An estimated 152 million children, aged between 5 and 17, have been subject to child labor.

We at Caritas Sri Lanka have worked for these victims for over thirty years and glad to note that we continue to do so. Under the Migration Project, the interventions we carry out mostly fall under the category of counter efforts against human trafficking. As a recognition of our efforts, the UN organization for Migrants ( IOM ) approached us recently to work in collaboration.

Dear Friends, as for our Holy Father, For Caritas, they are not numbers. They are names, faces, concrete stories; they are our brothers and sisters in humanity. That is how as the heart of the church yearns for the freedom of these marginalized and vulnerable people.

We cannot be quiet if we don’t wish to sell our soul to evil. Therefore today at this Holy Mass my friends, let us remember them and pray for them.

May we have the wisdom and courage to stand in solidarity with trafficked people, that together we may find ways to freedom, as our Vision Statement envisages in creating a Just Sri Lankan society, being in solidarity with the efforts for Integral Human Development.