On 5-7 September 2016, more than 150 people gathered in Abuja, Nigeria representing different faith based organizations, NGOs and international organizations from more than 40 countries. The occasion was a conference on human trafficking in Africa, hosted by Caritas Nigeria and organized by Caritas Internationalis and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. HAART had taken part in the preparation as a part of the working and was at the conference represented by Sophie Otiende and Jakob Christensen. HAART furthermore was able to bring a small sample of its Arts to End Slavery exhibition to the conference.
The One Human Family, One Voice, No Human Trafficking conference was a chance for stakeholders to take stock on the growing crisis of human trafficking in Africa, discuss solutions and best practices as well as providing for an excellent networking opportunity.
Some of the issues discussed in the conference was the different faces of human trafficking which robs its victims of their humanity and dignity and shows itself in different ways in labour exploitation, sexual exploitation and organ removals among others. It is a global problem that affects millions men, women and children in every country in Africa. Although human trafficking is illegal in all 54 African countries, there have so far not been any effective pan-African integrated efforts to combat it. The efforts are usually isolated and not coordinated. The conference was a first effort towards better cooperation within and across borders. Religious institutions offers an excellent avenue and partner in the eradication of human trafficking due to its vas organizations, longevity and shared values. This was affirmed by Cardinal Luis Tagle, Caritas Internationalis president, who urged the church to be the conscience of society.
At the conference there were survivors of human trafficking who shared the stories of what their experiences had been. Among them, were Sophie Otiende from HAART Kenya who gave a powerful statement on how human trafficking had affected her and how it could have been easily have been prevented. It was a statement not only about victimization and suffering, but also about surviving and not being allowing the exploitation to define her. And she was a testament to how survivors are strong and poses transformative powers to help others in similar situations. She urged everyone to look beyond the surface of our everyday lives as victims are oftentimes hiding in plain sight, which is something that traffickers take advantage of.
As human trafficking continues to rage on in the African continent with its millions of victims, robbing many societies of their most precious resources, its people. The delegates at the conference worked on a joint statement building on the declaration of Pope Francis and other world leaders in 2014. The statement urges the governments of the world to adopt better laws of human trafficking as well as proper implementing and to reaffirm that human trafficking is a crime against humanity and:
“…commit to collaboration and common action aiming at preventing and eradicating the scourge of human trafficking and exploitation of human beings and upholding human dignity.”
By Jakob Christensen