In 2012, the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross in India embraced their call to enter directly into the plight of trafficked persons and are now actively involved in anti-human trafficking projects throughout India.
“The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of human rights, justice, equality, dignity, compassion and peace for all. Today, we are called upon to build His Kingdom, and especially ‘to set at liberty those who are oppressed’ and ‘to preach good news to the poor’ (cf. Lk 4:18). In this world of tragic and complex human abuse of women and children, particularly from vulnerable classes, trafficking of women and children is an obscene affront to their dignity and rights”.
Thus in 2008, the General Chapter of the Congregation of Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross dealt with the issue of human trafficking, particularly that of girls and women. Chapter delegates together analysed the issue and sought ways to counter this modern-day slavery and gross violation of human rights. To coordinate the activities in the Congregation, they formed a committee at the Generalate, in Ingenbohl in Switzerland, where the Congregation was founded.
First steps in India
Then the Congress of the Superiors of the Provinces and Vicariates — held in 2012 in India — ventured toward doing something in common.
“The call of Pope Francis to unite efforts to stop this crime further strengthened our endeavours as a Congregation”, Sister Regina says. “Looking at the enormous problem of trafficking, the question naturally arose as to what our role could be in preventing such a massive network of organized crime. Being a small group, we knew we needed to join forces with other groups already working in the field”.
Founding a common house in Delhi, with members from various Provinces in India, seemed to be the thing to do. There, a number of NGOs operate at various levels: prevention, rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration. In 2017, the Sisters began working with different NGOs under the guidance of a National coordinator.
One child at a time
Together with these NGOs, the Sisters patrol the New Delhi and Anand Vihar railway stations. “From 6 a.m. till 6 p.m., we go two-by-two looking for unaccompanied children”, Sister Regina explains. “Some have run away from home for some reason, others are brought by traffickers for child labour, begging, or even organ trade. Girls are lured to the city with false promises of good jobs or marriage. A few teenagers, with very little or no money, elope and come to the city with a dream of a happy married life”.
“Knowing the signs to look for to identify these children, we approach them gently and begin a conversation with them”, Sister Regina continues. “We try to win their trust and get them to tell us about their travels and information about their parents. It takes a lot of patience and time to get the true story from them. We give them advice and make them aware of child trafficking. Then, we speak to their parents and confirm whether they are aware of their children’s movements. If the children turn out to be from within or around the city, we hand them over directly to their parents. If not, we take them to the police station to be registered. Then they go through a medical examination and are placed in foster homes for home tracing. It gives us a lot of satisfaction and joy to see the children being reunited with their families. The majority of parents cry when they receive the good news that their child is safe with us”.
Asha Niwas Rehabilitation centre
Sister Rajni manages Holy Cross Asha Niwas Rehabilitation Centre, in Majhatoli, Jharkhand, which opened its doors in 2016. The sisters provide awareness programmes to students and different groups regarding the consequences of migration and trafficking. Over a period of six years, they completed 150 such programmes. Through home visits, the sisters come to know the number of people who have migrated from the area. “In the process of migration, many are trafficked and do not return home for several years. Some parents approach us to ask for our help searching for their daughters so they can be brought back”, Sister Rajni says.
The sisters also offer shelter to girls who are then able to learn tailoring and other income-generating activities, such as mushroom cultivation and candle-making. “Being with us, they gain back their self-confidence, and when their family members accept them, they are sent back home”, Sister Rajni continues.
Anti-human trafficking activities
Sister Teresa Dorjee and other sisters work with illiterate girls and dropouts, but also with some educated girls “from tea gardens and the hills”, Sister Teresa explains. “We work mostly for prevention by identifying poor girls who, after finishing their secondary education or even college studies, are at home and are most vulnerable. They are targeted by traffickers who promise them good jobs in metropolitan cities. Since these girls are not able to receive any professional training and get a suitable job, they easily agree and go”.
The sisters provide financial support so these girls can have access to training which will lead to gainful employment for their families. Other more complicated cases require more specific intervention, including contacting local police, visiting and advising victims’ families, and mediation. It is known in the local area that if any young woman or girl is in any trouble, the sisters will try to help them in whatever way possible.
By Sister Margaret Sunita Minj