Salt + Light Media Home
Salt + Light Media Home

Deacon-structing Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery

Deacon Pedro

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

iStock Photo.
February 8th was the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was enslaved as a child and brought from Sudan to Italy in the late 19th century. She later became a Canossian Sister. She was canonized in 2000 and is the patron saint of survivors of human trafficking.
This makes February a good time to speak about this important topic.

What we Believe

You may be thinking, what is there to deacon-struct? This is a pretty straightforward teaching. We all know the Church’s social teaching.
Just in case: in short, the Church teaches that all human life is sacred and has dignity. This is the foundation of the Church’s Social Teaching. We hear about this principle mostly when speaking about the death penalty, abortion, and euthanasia. Sometimes we hear about it in relation to stem-cell research, cloning, and in-vitro fertilization. It also comes up when we speak about poverty, war, terrorism, and the effects of climate change. No matter the context, all life is precious. All human beings are children of God and have inherent worth, no matter who they are, how old they are, what their status is, what their finances are, what their stage of development is, what they’ve done, what their capacities are, how productive they are, no matter their race, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, or religion. Anything that threatens the life, sanctity, and dignity of the human person is contradictory to Church Teaching and contrary to God.
Needless to say, modern-day slavery is an affront to the life, sanctity, and dignity of the human person. For this reason, the Church (all of us) must do everything we can to eliminate human trafficking.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2414 reminds us that,
The seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason - selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian - lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit. St. Paul directed a Christian master to treat his Christian slave "no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, . . . both in the flesh and in the Lord."
The Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes further clarifies that
Whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonour to the Creator (#27).
Now that we are clear what the Church teaches, you may be thinking: “What does this have to do with me? There is no human trafficking anywhere near me.”


For the rest of this article, let's review some statistics, which will hopefully encourage you to be part of a movement to prevent, suppress, and punish modern-day slavery.
Human Trafficking and Modern-day Slavery are umbrella terms, often used interchangeably. They refer to the exploitation of individuals.
The United Nations defines Trafficking in Persons as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” (Note that when referring to children, the UN still considers it to be trafficking even if we can't point to any specific use of force, deception, coercion, or abuse of power.)
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), some 50 million people are estimated to be victims of modern-day slavery, globally. That means that 1 out of every 150 people in the world are victims. Of these, some 28 million are victims of forced labour. Compare this to the estimated 13 million people who were captured and sold as slaves between the 1500s and 1900s during the Atlantic slave trade. Here're some more alarming facts:
  • Human trafficking generates some $150 billion per year in profits. It is the third-most lucrative illegal activity in the world, after drugs and weapons (ILO statistics).
  • 25 per cent are of trafficked individuals are children; 54 per cent are women and girls, and 80 per cent of victims of forced sexual exploitation are women and girls. One in four children are victims of human trafficking and exploitation (, HTS).
  • While sex trafficking only accounts for 19 per cent of human trafficking, it generates 66 per cent of the profits (
  • While sex trafficking and prostitution are a very big problem and part of the world-wide human trafficking picture, the main industries which enslave people today are manufacturing, hospitality, and agriculture, as well as domestic work (
  • Human trafficking could look like sexual exploitation, but it can also look like forced marriage, slave labour, servitude, forced begging, organ harvesting, and reproductive exploitation ( It mostly affects the most vulnerable in our society, such as the poor, children, people with disabilities, immigrants, orphans and those in foster care, those who come from marginalized communities such as Indigenous populations and LGBTQ+, those with limited education, those who come from broken families, those who have a history of sexual assault and domestic violence, and runaways (HTS).
  • In many cases the culprit is a member of the individual’s family. In 13 per cent of cases, the intimate partner is the trafficker. Some minors are trafficked while still living at home. Some may not even know that they are victims (
  • An estimated 17,000 people are victims of modern-day slavery in Canada (, Ally Global Foundation)
  • Two thirds of all  reported human trafficking cases in Canada occur in Ontario. 90 per cent of the victims are Canadian-born teenage girls; the average age of the victim is 17, with victims as young as 13 (Ally Global Foundation).
  • The Global Slavery Index estimates that on any given day, more than 400,000 individuals in the United States are living in conditions of modern slavery. (

Supply and Demand

In April, 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed, leaving 1136 dead. The building was the home of five garment factories, which provided services for 29 clothing brands including Walmart, JCPenney, Benetton, and Canada’s Joe Fresh. The factories employed mostly women who worked six days a week at 37 cents an hour. Last year Bangladesh increased the monthly salary of garment factory workers to US$113 a month. Before then, the monthly salary was $75.
We can say much about those responsible for poor working conditions and exploitation of workers. However we cannot forget that we are on the receiving end, providing much demand for cheap products. We are the consumers who cannot stay unaware of the conditions in which the products that we so badly want are made. We are the consumers who provide a demand which, in some ways is the motivation for the exploitation of persons so that we can enjoy the benefits of the services they provide. We can make a difference by where we spend our dollars.
Pope Francis said:
If there are so many young women victims of trafficking who end up on the streets of our cities, it is because many men here — young, middle-aged, elderly — demand these services and are willing to pay for their pleasure. I wonder then, is the principal cause of trafficking really the traffickers? I believe the principal cause is the unscrupulous selfishness of the many hypocrites in our world. Of course, arresting traffickers is an obligation of justice. But the true solution is the conversion of hearts, cutting off demand in order to dry out the market
(Address to the Participants in the World Day of Prayer, Reflection and Action against Human Trafficking, 12 February 2018).
Pope Francis has described human trafficking as an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ (Address to Participants in the International Conference on Combating Human Trafficking, 10 April 2014).

February 8th: Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita

On February 8th the Church commemorates the World Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking.
His message for this year's World Day of Prayer says:
I encourage you, then, to respond to this appeal for transformation, in memory of Saint Josephine Bakhita, who stands for all those men and women who, despite their enslavement, can still attain freedom. It is a call to take action, to mobilize all our resources in combatting trafficking and restoring full dignity to those who have been its victims. If we close our eyes and ears, if we do nothing, we will be guilty of complicity.
Coordinating the Church‘s efforts to combat human trafficking is the global Talitha Kum network of over 6,000 religious sisters and partners, promoted by the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and the Union of Superiors General (USG).
This year Talitha Kum welcomed fifty young representatives from partner organizations to Rome for a week of initiatives and awareness-raising activities. One of these is the release of a new app, Walking in Dignity, to help raise awareness on human trafficking and promote change.
For more on Talitha Kum and this initiative, watch BEHOLD on February 21 at 8:00 PM ET / 5:00 PM PT and at
We must come to the realization that human trafficking and modern-day slavery is real and it is likely in your community. This trafficking is fuelled by our need for supply. At the same time, because of this, we can make a change. Let’s work together so that victims are no longer invisible. We do this, first by educating ourselves, and then by advocating for the cause and for the victims who have no voice.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the inspiring example of St. Josephine Bakhita.
St. Josephine Bakhita, you were enslaved as a child; you were bought and sold,
you were treated brutally.
Intercede, we implore you, for all those who are trapped in trafficking and slavery.
May their captors let them go, and may this evil be erased from the face of the earth.
St. Josephine Bakhita, once you regained your freedom,
you did not let your sufferings define your life.
You chose a path of kindness and generosity.
Help those blinded by greed and lust,
who trample the human rights and dignity of their brothers and sisters.
Help them to break out of their hateful chains,
to become fully human again, and to imitate your kindness and generosity.
Dear St. Josephine Bakhita, your freedom drew you to Christ and his Church.
Then God called you to religious life as a Canossian Sister.
You practiced great charity, mercy, and joyful gentleness in your vocation.
Help us always to be like you, especially when we feel tempted
to look away and not to help, to reject others, or even to abuse them.
Intercede for us, so that Christ may fill our hearts with joy as he always filled yours.
O Loving God, pour your merciful light into our troubled world.
Let it flood into the darkest shadows.
Bring salvation to the innocents who suffer under sinful abuse.
Bring conversion to the utterly lost souls who hold them captive and exploit them.
Give us all the strength to grow in the true freedom of love for you,
for each other and for our common home.
(From Orientations on Human Trafficking, published by the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery of Integral Human Development.)
More resources:
United Nations
Government of Ontario
If you or someone you know is in need of support or you want to report a potential case call the Canadian human trafficking hotline: 1-833-900-1010. It’s confidential, toll-free and open 24/7.
In the United States

Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: [email protected]

Related Articles:


Receive our newsletters
Stay Connected
Receive our newsletters
Stay Connected
Copyright © 2024 Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
Registered Charity # 88523 6000 RR0001