Human trafficking in the Caribbean is the focus of an international consultation getting underway today here. Church-based justice advocates are concerned about the sale of human beings across borders for the sex trade or hard labor in agriculture and industry. The Caribbean situation will serve as a case study for the global phenomenon.
“The business of trading human beings rather than goods is sometimes called 21st century slavery,” says the consultation organizer, the Rev. Dora Arce-Valentín. “We have to engage churches in the issue. We have to make the issue more visible and learn about confronting it.”
Arce-Valentín, a minister in the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba, heads the Office for Justice and Partnership of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) in Geneva, Switzerland. Human trafficking is expected to become an important focus of the organization’s justice program.
Twenty-three participants from 15 countries have been invited to the three-day consultation hosted at the Matanzas Theological Seminary, March 18-20. The majority are from the Caribbean region.
The objective of the gathering is for members of WCRC’s justice networks to hear about what is being done in response to the issue and to consider what more churches in their home contexts can do.
Ryan Smith of the United Nations Office in New York, supported by WCRC and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is one of two keynote speakers for the event. Smith is to address the global scope of the problem and give an overview of what is being done to protect potential and actual victims of human trafficking.
Naeisha John of the Caribbean Council of Churches will address human trafficking concerns in the region. John who is based in Grenada works in collaboration with the Council for World Mission.
Visits are planned with groups here in Cuba’s capital that are conducting research into the issue and with local parishes that are seeking to protect people who are at risk of being trafficked.
Arce-Valentín says the roots of the problem lie in unjust economic conditions that force people into extreme poverty and leave them vulnerable to being tricked or sold into forced labor or the sex trade. Ecological degradation and gender inequality further exacerbate the problem.
“This is a worldwide problem,” the Cuban theologian warns. “You may not be aware how much your country or your company is profiting from human trafficking.”
Immediately following the consultation, meetings of WCRC’s Justice Networks will convene in Havana for a two-day planning session. The goal includes developing a program for WCRC in response to the challenges of human trafficking.