A perspective on migration and human trafficking

Like the God of Exodus who liberated the Israelites from slavery, men and women in the 18th and 19th century fought to end the slave trade. Slavery still exists today, sex slaves, domestic servitude and child labour. The God of Exodus still cries “let my people go”. This call is a reminder to the church today to understand the issues related to human trafficking so as to respond to them.

Recent data of the United Nations indicate that 2.4 million people are trafficked at any one time across the globe. The data indicators suggest 80 per cent are exploited as sexual slaves, 20 per cent are children (UN Global report on TIP). It has been argued that the modern global slave trade is larger in absolute terms that the Atlantic trade of the 18th and 19th century (Foreign Affairs Journal)

Most victims of trafficking come from Eastern Europe, South and East Asia. Most are trafficked to Western Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America.Slavery as an ugly insidious violation of a person’s liberty stands in the face of the God of liberation who invites the church to stand with and for those who are imprisoned (Luke 4: 18-19). The church was a leading voice in the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. This is the heritage and history that must now be reclaimed with courage and conviction. The Council for World Mission through the work of several of its regions has given some focus to this issue. Much more needs to be done as member churches give focus to this issue as one that goes to the heart of who we are to be as church committed to justice for those who are in chains.

It is disingenuous to assume as many do, that those human beings who end up living their lives via brothels be they legitimate or illegitimate do so by choice. Ethan Kapstien in a telling article entitled “The New Global Slave Trade” (Foreign Affairs Nov-Dec 2006) reminds us that slavery would end naturally once it was no longer profitable. This proved to be untrue as slavery remained profitable until it was abolished. Today human trafficking is the second largest source of illegal income worldwide. Kapstien contends “there is no natural end to slavery in sight”.

“Let my people go.” The God of Exodus is still a God of liberation, is still the God who calls people to address the matter of human trafficking. God called a people out of slavery, the transatlantic slave trade was brought to an end through a campaign of abolitionists and direct government intervention. The evil of slavery can only remain if many accept it with quiet convenience and others ignore because they can’t be bothered. The God of Exodus calls, the God of liberation beckons; will the church respond? Abraham Lincoln said that “in giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free.” That remains true today.

Author: Randolph Turner, Programme Secretary, Justice and Witness.