Antonio Jose da Santos Filhio escaped slavery in northern Brazil.

Under the scrutiny of an armed guard, Antonio Jose da Santos Filhio worked nearly 12 hours a day while becoming increasingly in debt to his employers before being rescued by Brazilian inspectors. Photo by Robyn Fieser/CRS


As much as we would like to believe that slavery and human trafficking are only horrific aspects of our collective past, these tremendous abuses of human rights and human dignity have in some form continued to exist throughout the world and, in fact, are experiencing a dramatic resurgence in recent years. The details vary from country to country but, put simply, human trafficking is the coerced use of human beings as objects of commerce. It is a reemergence of slave labor and extreme forms of sexual exploitation.

Usually, trafficking victims are lured away from their homes with promises of paid employment in legitimate jobs. They may be abducted—or even purchased—from family members. Once they have fallen into the hands of traffickers, victims' movements are restricted. They are isolated from the surrounding community, their legal documents are taken, and they are often victims of considerable physical and sexual violence. In destination countries, trafficking victims who escape or are picked up by local authorities are frequently not recognized as victims of a crime but rather considered 'undocumented aliens.' Often, they are detained and deported right back to the traffickers, where they are 'recycled' or resold, and their nightmare begins again.

Trafficking in human beings is a $10-billion growth industry. Conservative estimates of the number of people trafficked into forced labor and prostitution range from 700,000 to 2 million (primarily women and children) annually.

It is impossible to deny the suffering of the victims of trafficking. What may be harder to understand are the forces that create and sustain this global problem. These forces—and the array of initiatives necessary to combat them—are far more complex. Trafficking does not exist in isolation. It is connected to economic, political and social forces that increase the vulnerability and desperation of the poor and marginalized. Trafficking is one of the most horrific results of the economic and social disparities that increase the vulnerability of millions of people. Such vast inequality allows many within our societies to be considered little more than disposable commodities.

CRS Policy Position

Catholic Relief Services supports programs that combat human trafficking through prevention, protection, reintegration and public awareness. CRS and many of our international partners work together to increase understanding of and response to the factors that sustain and exacerbate human trafficking. Our experience is based in our work in development, humanitarian relief and human rights arenas.

CRS' programming in other areas (including peacebuilding, agricultures, microfinance, health and migrant/refugee protection) contributes to efforts to decrease vulnerability of the poor and marginalized and reduce the risk of individuals becoming victims of trafficking. CRS supports alternative, local economic options and social protections as a means of both preventing trafficking from happening in the first place and as a way of re-integrating trafficked people into society. In these ways, we hope to decrease the vulnerability of individuals and communities to trafficking. CRS also participates in the U.S.-based Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking. This coalition works to raise awareness of the international and domestic (United States) dimensions of this tragedy as well as create new opportunities for Catholics in the United States to engage in solidarity with their brothers and sisters overseas.

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