· Vatican City ·

“Victims of trafficking, victims of the market”

@Lisa Kristine – Uisg

24 October 2020

Sister Gabriella Bottani has been thinking about this for some time: “We can understand the trafficking of people in the wider context of the market economy, characterized by the neo-liberal model that favors profit over human rights, creating a culture of violence, commodification and inequality. All this is at the origin of human trafficking”. Therefore, she argues, we need to change our approach to address the big, global issue of trafficking.

“Being women permits us to understand in our lives what it means to suffer inequality - she explains – which is already an aspect of vulnerability; but there are other dynamics that are grafted onto this. Racial discrimination, for example, is the experience of indigenous Amazonian communities, which is where I started to work in 2007, and where being of African origin, or being indigenous increases the likelihood of being trafficked.

As in North America, in the Native American communities in Canada and the United States, or in Thailand, where girls from what are called tribal groups are particularly at risk. Anything that leads to inequalities automatically increases vulnerability of being trafficked. In the flows of people migrating, for example, a girl moving alone risks sexual abuse and violence, trafficking and exploitation. However, there are many boys who are abused, exploited, recruited too”.

Vulnerable people “are prey to human trafficking, but looking at the problem only from this side risks stigmatizing them as poor women. But this is not the case, we have an incredible strength”, claims the nun who, a year ago, President Mattarella appointed Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic for her commitment to combat trafficking as an international coordinator of the Talitha Kum World Network. “If on the one hand there is vulnerability, on the other there are important resources that can promote a process of real transformation, resistance and innovation. Our network is a bit like this. They tell us ‘poor things, you are vulnerable’, and our answer to this is no, we are not vulnerable, we are made vulnerable, which is something else”.

The question is also cultural. “We would need to reflect deeply from a philosophical, anthropological, socio-political point of view, to help us understand the reasons that lead to this kind of dehumanizing action, to the return of slavery. One thing has been clear to me for several years now: the trafficking of people is a bit like the tip of an iceberg; it is the result of the complex dynamics of our time. There is an ontological aspect, a social aspect, an economic aspect. It is one of the expressions of the sick part of our society. I refuse to believe that this is normal, because it is not.  At least, it is one of the things that I refuse to believe, and what I find hard to digest is precisely this normalization of exploitation. They may be expressed in different ways, but the trafficking of migrants and trafficking of people intersect at the point where the human person no longer exists. Because of this annihilation of dignity, everything else becomes possible because it brings profit. The sisters in Nigeria tell me that it is not normal, not part of their culture, that families place their daughters into these situations for social welfare. What has happened in human relations to arrive to this point?”

That is how the story of the 27-year-old Joy began. “The first to sell me was my family. I was fine in my Country; I have two sisters, two brothers, nephews. However, when my father died, it was all over for my mother, because in Nigeria women always depend on men. Shortly afterwards, a girl friend of our family who was helping us with money and clothes, a shepherdess, called my sister to propose to send me to her mother in Italy. To be her caregiver, she said; I could study there. Yet, I had read books, seen films, I knew what was happening in Italy and Europe and I did not want to go. My mother and my sister pushed me, they took me to a place I didn’t know; I don’t know if they took money, but they left. That’s when the journey to Libya started, where I spent four months that I can’t tell you about; in 2016 I arrived in Italy, at Cara di Bari, and I thought ‘thank God, my promised land’. Instead, it was a second Libya. They came to pick me up and took me to Castel Volturno, where our friend’s mother told me: ‘You have to pay 35 thousand euros for the trip, tomorrow go work on the street with other girls’. One year in hell, slave of the Madame. But I was reborn in Caserta, in 2017, when I met the Ursuline Sisters of Casa Rut”.

Today, in Caserta, Joy has a job as a shop assistant, and a house with a lay nun. On her journey of redemption she heard important words directly from Pope Francis, whom she has met twice: “The first time he said to me: “Don’t be afraid, be courageous, go to school”. The second time, it was I who spoke to him: ‘I am doing it’. And he said, ‘Brava, you are great’. Now I want to put my story and my strength at the service of those who have lived through the same experience”.

And this is exactly what Sister Gabriella Bottani means when she speaks of empowerment: “Strengthen, support, do not give in to dynamics which can still lead to vulnerability, to always needing help. Any group, any person, has potential, strengths, characteristics that must be enhanced; this is the concept of resilience, but it is also something more, something that, in addition to resisting, allows you to change. It is necessary to offer spaces of care and protection, which in the end are spaces of freedom, where people can truly evolve and rebuild their lives. As a network, I say to myself, we need to increase this dynamic of valorization of the resources we have, to network, not to oppose each other”.

Because the common enemy gains ground. “The impression is that the phenomenon of trafficking is still spreading. We do not have precise data, but we hear several testimonies from networks around the world. Trafficking in people and migrants has become one of the most profitable businesses in the world after arms trafficking. In addition, they continue to be low-cost crimes: recently the OSCE confirmed that only one in every 25,000 cases of people who have been trafficked are able to have a trial, and which does not necessarily conclude with a conviction. Impunity is really high”. Geographically, “statistics continue to indicate South East and South Asia as the places with the highest number of trafficked persons. The African continent, on the other hand, is the highest in the ratio between population and trafficked people. Eastern Europe follows. These are the areas where there is the greatest vulnerabilities, the largest social, political and environmental instability. I am referring here to the mining activities in northern Mozambique, in the Cabo Delgado area, or the Kivu region in the Democratic Republic of Congo: the exploitation of the resources in those territories; the devastating pollution caused by oil extraction in the Niger Delta region; the cause of overcrowding and degradation of Benin City, the city from which the majority of trafficked girls originate. The exploitation of resources has brought inequality, because these regions have become rich theoretically, but in fact those who have become rich are very few; pollution and land grabbing have expelled populations”.

According to Marcella Corsi and Giulio Guarini, lecturers in Political Economics at La Sapienza University in Rome and Tuscia University in Viterbo respectively, “mobilising women to defend the environment means fighting gender inequalities”. The Indian economist, Bina Agarwal “underlines how these, especially in the Countries in the Southern hemisphere, have their core in the control and possession of natural resources”, as reported in the International Union Superiors General (UISG) bulletin dedicated to the ten years of the work of Talitha Kum. “For example, a study carried out in India shows that 49 per cent of victims of domestic violence are wives who are without property, while it falls to 7 per cent among women with a property”.

The two economists define Pope Francis’ statement “This economy kills” as both provocative and prophetic about the current economic system, of which “women and nature can be considered victims”. They close with questions. The objects that can be possessed and freely traded on the market are goods; but what happens when the commodity being traded is the body of human beings? What happens when human assets such as forests are destroyed? And, if the fundamental aspects of human nature, which are representative of our profound essence, are monetized, what remains of our humanity?

“As the International Union of General Superiors, we are thinking about the idea of coordinating more with those who have been working for the care of the environment since Laudato si’ and with those who work on migration. Because in sum, if we analyze the causes, the problems are caused by unjust recurring models”, Sister Gabriella concludes.

by Federica Re David


Talitha Kum throughout the world


Talitha Kum is present in 92 Countries throughout five Continents: 14 in Africa, 18 in Asia, 17 in America, 41 in Europe, 2 in Oceania. There are 44 national networks: nine in Africa, 11 in Asia, 15 in America, seven in Europe and two in Oceania. There are seven regional coordinators: two in Latin America, three in Asia, and one in Europe and one in Africa.