Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 13, 2006
Canada not innocent in human trafficking
Italian nun says modern slavery strips a person of their self-respect, hope
Sr. Eugenia Bonetti
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Human trafficking is a wide-spread social evil and no country is immune including Canada, says an Italian nun whose efforts in Italy have helped set 5,000 women free from the sex slave trade.
Human trafficking is "the new slavery of the 21st century," said Sister Eugenia Bonetti, who has coordinated anti-trafficking strategies in Rome and Turin.
She uses a team of 200 religious sisters who have opened their homes to young women fleeing captivity.
Sense of guilt
The modern slavery is far worse because it involves the "emptying of the dignity of the person," leaving the women with no hope, no life and a deep sense of guilt, even though they have been forced into prostitution, said Bonetti.
The globalized market for sexual exploitation has made all countries complicit in the trade as either countries of origin, transit or destination. "No country is safe. We are all included," she said.
The root cause in countries of origin is "utter poverty," lack of jobs and gender inequality, she said. Traffickers lure women through promises of jobs because they have no means for survival.
Women and children often cross several countries before they reach their country of destination. The huge profits and low risk make everyone from taxi cab drivers, immigration officials, hotel workers, airport security personnel, landlords and corrupt government officials complicit through cash incentives to turn a blind eye to the problem, she said. The Mafia and other forms of organized crime control the industry.
The root cause in destination countries is the consumer who exploits these women and children for their sexual gratification and sense of power.
"People think that because they can pay, they can buy the body of a minor human being," Bonetti said, criticizing the empty values and permissiveness of wealthy countries.
She also described trafficking as a "man problem" because as women in western countries have become more emancipated, men have resorted to sexual exploitation as a way of maintaining their sense of control. Many of the exploiters of minors are married men.
Bonetti painted a dire picture of Italy. She estimated some 500,000 women and children are trafficked yearly through European countries, with 50,000 to 70,000 ending up in Italy. "The streets in Italy are flooded with minors, very young girls," she said.
Most are women 14 to 18 years old, mainly from Romania, West Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Bonetti said the plight of Nigerian women is often the worst. African women are considered "second class" to those trafficked from Eastern Europe and earn 10-15 Euros for sexual transactions, while their white counterparts earn 25 Euros. Their problems are compounded by the use of Voodoo rituals on the girls to build fear and control.
Women who had once been trafficked themselves train the girls for their horrific lives on the streets. It might take more than 4,000 encounters for girls to pay off the 50,000 to 75,000 Euro "contracts" they owe the traffickers. In addition, they have to pay for food, shelter and clothing out of their earnings.
Bonetti told stories of several women who left Nigeria in hopes of finding work to help support their families back home. Most of them travelled in dangerous caravans across the Sahara desert where the heat, thirst and illness were described as "unbearable."
But some of their stories had happy endings. Through the efforts of religious sisters who took women into their homes, they were able to find a new life, despite their suffering and despair, she said.
Bonetti and other sisters have regularly gone onto the streets to meet with girls to persuade them that help is available. "We have ways of giving out phone numbers and addresses," she said, showing a city bus pass that has a help-line phone number on it.
Catholic religious are in a unique position to help trafficked women and children, she said.
"We are present all over the world. There is not a corner of the world where you don't find sisters." It is their "prophetic role" to help to defend and protect exploited women and children.
They also have "a bank account that never goes dry." "It's called divine providence," she said.
Though she noted it is difficult to provide exact statistics on the extent of the trade, the United Nations has estimated as many as four million are trafficked worldwide into indentured servitude or the slave trade.
According to an RCMP training film presented after Bonetti's talk, human trafficking generates revenue on a par with that of the illegal arms trade, coming second only to the drug trade.
Representatives from the RCMP's newly created Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre Immigration and Passport Branch also attended the meeting sponsored by the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) and PACT Ottawa, a local volunteer committee.
The CRC, which represents 230 congregations of religious men and women in Canada, has made the eradication of human trafficking a top priority.
One of its initiatives has been the tour of a play Lost in Traffic. The CRC has more information about human trafficking at its website www.crc-canada.org.