Human trafficking worsens during pandemic, Catholic groups say



Caritas and other organizations call on governments to strengthen the safety net for vulnerable people.

The number of victims of human trafficking and exploitation around the world is increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic, say Caritas Internationalis and COATNET – Christian Organizations Against Trafficking Network. As organizations prepared to mark the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons this Thursday, the two organizations appealed to governments around the world to step up their support for workers in informal sectors such as domestic work, agriculture and construction, where the most vulnerable workers are found, especially those in employment. undocumented migrants.

“Attention to the pandemic should not prevent us from caring for those most vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation,” Caritas Internationalis General Secretary Aloysius John said in a statement. “And this is what local Caritas organizations and COATNET members are doing all over the world, along with other civil society organizations, providing much-needed safety nets to victims of trafficking and exploitation, even during pandemic, and support them in their difficulties, offering material, medical, legal and psychological assistance.

COATNET includes the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Hilary Chester, associate director of anti-trafficking programs at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops / Migration and Refugee Services, said in an interview on Tuesday that the pandemic was impacting already vulnerable communities, including Homeless. Many of them work in the “informal economy”, which makes it more difficult for them to come forward if they have concerns about treatment or working conditions. If they had irregular immigration status and lost their jobs, they did not receive unemployment benefits, and this situation “pushes them into even riskier ways of trying to earn a living, of trying to earn. money, ”she said.

The Caritas press release indicates that human trafficking and exploitation now affects more than 40 million people worldwide. Measures taken by governments to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have had a major impact on the ability of informal workers to earn a living. “For these workers, the loss of employment has also meant the loss of housing to live there ”, the statement said.

Young adults among undocumented or irregular migrant communities who have lost their jobs are at risk, Chester said. “We suspect a lot of survival sex situations, where, whether it’s people who lived in informal living conditions now, they are under pressure if they can’t pay their rent, or if they lose their homes, now they are surfing the couch, and people start asking, coercing, demanding sexual favors in order to meet basic shelter needs, ”she said.

Caritas Spain said the current health crisis has pushed thousands of people living in substandard housing in extreme living conditions. “The state of emergency has increased the risk of homelessness for seasonal farm workers who cannot comply with hygiene and social distancing measures and who have no food as the lockdown means they do not can’t work, ”he said.

Lack of freedom of movement caused by lockdown and travel restrictions means victims of human trafficking in many countries are less likely to escape and find help when detained against they wish, continues the Caritas / COATNET press release. Among them are many victims of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Domestic workers face increased economic, but also physical and psychological risksbecause they are even more cut off from society during the pandemic. Gabriel Hatti, president of the regional office of Caritas Middle East and North Africa, explained the difficult situation experienced in Lebanon and other countries of the Middle East by “many Filipinos and other foreign workers, who find it difficult to return home after losing their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the current economic crisis. They are now lining up in front of their embassies without any social material or psychological protection and many of them do not even have legal status.

Children are also among the main victims of the consequences of the pandemic, in terms of exploitation and trafficking, the statement said. Containment measures have caused a sharp increase in cases of violence against minors, It said. For example, at one point during the lockdown in India, 92,000 cases of child abuse were reported to authorities in just 11 days. Caritas India says that “there has also been an increase in cases of child labor and child marriage. Due to difficult economic conditions, families marry their young daughters, so there is one less mouth to feed.

In addition, in countries and regions where schools are the only source of shelter and food for millions of children, following the closure of schools, many children are forced to take to the streets to seek food. food and money, increasing the risk of being exploited. Serious dangers also come from the Internet, because without proper parental controls, many children who currently use the Internet for home schooling can be easily lured and exploited.

Chester said that “bad actors… use the internet to reach young people, groom them and force them, manipulate them into engaging in online sex acts.”

Some children, even before the pandemic, shared personal pictures via the Internet or engaged in “sexting”. Now some people capture such pictures and ‘turn them around and say,’ Look what I got, and if you don’t keep it up, we can display it and send it everywhere. According to Chester. “So it becomes like blackmail extortion, which then becomes a kind of online sexual exploitation…. Parents are probably trying, but are not in a position to fully monitor what children are doing online.

In addition, there are foster children and runaway homeless youth who, due to the pandemic, have less contact with case managers, Chester said. There is less possibility of moving them if there is a “placement failure,” and there is less possibility of searching for them if they have run away from a bad placement, she said.

Faced with this dramatic picture, Caritas Internationalis and COATNET:

  • urge governments to provide victims of human trafficking with access to basic services, in particular shelters and hotlines, access to justice and to support organizations that deal with them;
  • call on institutions and civil society organizations to protect children from abuse and exploitation, including through the Internet;
  • call on governments, in this time of COVID-19, to put in place urgent and targeted measures to support workers in the informal sectors and to step up efforts to identify victims of trafficking and exploitation, through a increased control and measures such as labor inspections;
  • and to urge all peoples to be vigilant and to denounce cases of trafficking and exploitation of human beings.

The United Nations is organizing the International Day Against Trafficking in Persons, and this year focuses on first responders and their role in the fight against human trafficking. “These are people who work in different sectors – identifying, supporting, advising and seeking justice for victims of trafficking, and challenging the impunity of traffickers,” the UN said.



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