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Speech on Human Trafficking at Ministerial Breakfast

His Eminence Pietro Cardinal Parolin
Secretary of State of the Holy See
Head of the Delegation of the Holy See to the
Seventy-Fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Fifth Ministerial Breakfast Meeting of the
Group of Friends United Against Human Trafficking
New York Marriott East Side, Manhattan
26 September 2019

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ministers and Panelists, Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to express the sincere greetings of Pope Francis to the Member States comprising the Group of Friends United Against Human Trafficking as well as his gratitude for this Ministerial Meeting, as we focus together on one of the darkest and most revolting realities in the world today, ensnaring 41 million men and women, boys and girls.
Human trafficking is, as Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed, “an open wound on the body of contemporary society,” a “crime against humanity,” and an “atrocious scourge that is present throughout the world on a broad scale.” It is a global phenomenon, he has added, that “exceeds the competence of any one community or country. In order to eliminate it, we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself.”
The international community has indeed mobilized. There is the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, which entered into force in 2003; the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons; targets 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2 in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that commit us to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking; and Security Council Resolution 2331. There are also various UN entities that have brought their infrastructure, leadership and expertise to the fight, like the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the International Labour Organization, the twenty other agencies in the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons, and United Nations University. Various Member States have, moreover, formed coalitions, like the 20 countries that comprise the Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking, or the 22 countries and 217 organizational partners involved in Alliance 8.7. These are all important signs of progress for which we must be grateful.
At the same time, we must state with candor, compunction and conviction that this mobilization has not been comparable in size to that of metastasizing cancer of human trafficking. Despite a clearer recognition of the dimensions of the problem, the resources needed to respond to it, and the commitment of governments, institutions and individuals to combat it, the number of those enslaved continues to grow. As Pope Francis said during his address to the General Assembly four years ago, “Solemn commitments,” although necessary, “are not enough.” We must ensure, he underlined, that our efforts are “truly effective in the struggle against” “human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labor, including prostitution,” and other evils.1 Our efforts until now have not been anywhere near as effective as they need to be. For the sake of those presently subjugated, the international community — as well as individual and regional governments at all levels, non-governmental organizations and individuals — must do much better.
We must do better to prevent trafficking in persons by addressing what drives it. There has been significant progress in identifying and addressing many of the social, economic, cultural, political factors that make people vulnerable to human trafficking, in formulating comprehensive policies and programs, and in developing educational and awareness-raising campaigns. At the same time, however, several of the drivers of vulnerability have worsened, like armed conflicts and forced migration. Also there is a need for an honest and courageous examination of the cultural and ethical factors that augment the market demand to exploit other human beings, like the avarice that drives forced labor and the practices like pornography and prostitution that foster sexually addictive behavior and the commodification of other persons as objects of gratification.
We must do better to protect and assist victims. Thankfully, there is now greater awareness and legal recognition that those entrapped in modern slavery are indeed victims rather than “silent partners” or, even worse, criminals. More services are in place to identify and liberate victims, regularize their situation and put them on the path to recovery. Because of the deep traumas suffered, however, there is need for greater recognition that the work of rehabilitation cannot be a brief program but requires a long-term investment to provide the healing and training necessary for the victims to begin a normal, productive and autonomous life. That investment must include a considerable expansion in the amount of residential treatment facilities.
We must do better to prosecute those involved in the crime of trafficking. While there have been various advances in formulating adequate legal instruments to investigate, prosecute and punish traffickers, in unlocking the financial chains, understanding the connection to other forms of organized crime and corruption, and fostering cooperation at and across borders, there is, as we all know, still very few convictions, as the 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons makes clear.2 Most traffickers still operate with impunity. Much greater sophistication and resources are required.
Finally, we must also do better to promote partnerships among governmental institutions, the private sector, academic institutions, the media, civil society, and faith-based organizations to eradicate trafficking and rehabilitate survivors.3 Here I would like to mention two such worldwide partnerships that have arisen within the Catholic Church. The first is the Santa Marta Group, an international alliance of police chiefs and bishops working together, at all levels, to promote coordination between law enforcement and faith-based organizations in combatting human trafficking according to the specific competencies of each. The second is the Talitha Kum, a network of Catholic religious sisters founded ten years ago, which coordinates 22 regional associations of sisters in 77 countries on five continents. The Talitha Kum sisters coordinate with many other stakeholders where they are to help victims of sex or labor trafficking be emancipated, rehabilitated and reintegrated.
Earlier this year, the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development published some “Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking” to guide and strengthen the work of the Catholic Church across the globe in the fight against this scourge.4 It illustrates various aspects of the approach that the Catholic Church is trying to take at the grassroots level worldwide. I would humbly recommend it to you as a resource in view of strengthening partnerships with ecclesial institutions in this global fight.
Your Excellencies, Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
The only adequate response to the global phenomenon of human trafficking is a worldwide mobilization of fraternity, solidarity, and commitment capable of remedying the globalization of indifference in which human trafficking thrives. Those enslaved are desperate for our efforts to be commensurate to the challenge. Let us not let them down, by building on the progress we have made and urgently translating our words into action.
Thank you very much.


1. Meeting with the Members of the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, 25 September 2015.  

2. 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, p. 23.

3. Political Declaration on the Implementation of the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, paragraph 24.

4. Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking, Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, 2019.