Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Slavery In The 21st Century

By TONY MAGLIANO, CNS | Published July 15, 2004

Believe it or not, slavery is alive in the 21st century!

Today slavery commonly is referred to as “human trafficking.” But regardless of its name— “slavery” or “trafficking”—this modern version is every bit as evil as the slavery of the past.

UNICEF, the U.N. Children’s Fund, estimates that 1.2 million children are victims of human trafficking. Children are bought, abducted and lured for the purposes of dangerous, hard and demeaning labor. They are forced to work in factory sweatshops, on farms and as street-hawkers and prostitutes. More than 300,000 child soldiers are fighting many of the world’s wars.

Of the many sad stories, one of the worst is in Mozambique. Five religious Comboni sisters working in Nampula have escaped four ambush attacks after uncovering a grisly scheme whereby children and youth are kidnapped and murdered for their organs!

While traffickers target many boys and some men, the majority of victims are women and girls. According to the world’s oldest international human rights organization, Anti-Slavery International (, gender-based discrimination is recognized as the reason.

In many cultures, when girls marry they move away from the parental household, whereas married males often remain at home. Consequently, when parents can only afford to educate some of their children, it is seen as an important investment to educate the boys.

In his foreword to UNICEF’s 2004 report on the “State of the World’s Children,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan writes, “There is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls.”

Traffickers usually target very poor families or individuals in rural areas. Uneducated poor women see the false promises of well-paying jobs as a way out of poverty.

The lure of decent jobs and schooling for children is attractive to parents as well. Since girls usually have to leave home in order to secure their futures anyway, many parents see the offers made by traffickers as good. What parents do not realize is that a nightmare is about to begin for their daughters.

Once in the hands of traffickers, girls and women are taken far from home and forced to work in sweatshops or the booming “sex industry.” Traffickers control their victims through intimidation. They confiscate travel documents and warn that any attempt to escape will result in the beating and death of family members back home.

The horror of human trafficking is little known. Please get involved:

– Write to Colin Powell, Secretary of State, 2201 C St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20520. Ask him to put diplomatic pressure on the government of Mozambique to stop the abduction, murder and trafficking in children’s organs.

– Urge your two U.S. senators (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) to advocate for quick Senate ratification of the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.

A Jesuit friend working in India, Father John Guidera, recently wrote, “A pressing need is the education of girls, so long neglected.” Educated girls are far less likely to be preyed upon by traffickers.

Finally, if you suspect someone might be the victim of trafficking, you can anonymously call the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Local service providers will then be contacted to assist the victim.