By Martina Liebsch, Caritas Internationalis Policy and Advocacy Director

You could hear a pin drop when during the above mentioned conference the audience was confronted with the magnitude of the phenomenon of trafficking in Latin America. The evidence was presented as a film done by youngsters who travelling throughout the continent collected evidence in bars, on the streets, interviewing victims of trafficking, often minors, and bar owners and pimps. A shocking evidence of a continent which is seen as a continent of joy and sharing. This was evident as well in the testimonies of those who are working with persons which are being exploited.

But the conference as such was a great sign of hope! It is amazing what a group of engaged, lay volunteers can set up with reaching out to their contacts and networks! The participants and experts intervening, a mix of representatives from academia, religious congregations, engaged lay women with the support of Mexican Bishops, such as the former president of Caritas Mexico, Msgr. Gustavo Vega and Msgr. Retes, president of the Latin American Bishops Conference.

The continent, which seemed to be inactive on this crime, showed a great wealth of activity and maybe this conference was needed to connect the single initiatives.

A few points emerged from this first day.

A reference to Pope Francis was made, while he was Bishop of Buenos Aires and calling out to the citizens of this city: We have to cry, cry with the victims, as in this city there is slavery!

Crying with the victims! Many working with victims of abuse and exploitation reported that their first shock when they came across the issue made them cry and suffer, before they could move into action.

In many of the testimonies it became evident, that violence is one of the origins of the crime, violence within families and against minors, which makes them vulnerable to trafficking.

A high level expert from the Latin American Observatory on Trafficking reminded us, that no-one is expert on this topic, only the traffickers are, and that we are only reacting.  But he also reminded us, that the awareness about the problem is recent, considering that the Palermo Protocol, the international document, annexed to the International Convention on Organised Crime was only adopted in the year 2000. More research is needed. We need to understand the trafficking chain and it is a chain starting from people very close to the victims. And everyone makes profit. In this way a system is created, a kind of supply chain.

What to do? We have to better understand and acknowledge the reality in order to transform it.

We have to change the order of who is giving evidence. Normally it is the victim who has to give evidence that she has been trafficked which can re – victimise her again. This does not mean that the person should not give evidence but it is not her who has to prove everything, it has rather to be the law enforcement to go for evidence and react to reports, including protection of the person who reports the crime.  Something which was emphasised by a representative from Mexico. An important issue was to give perspectives for survivors of trafficking for rehabilitation and re-integration. A long process, which has not been sufficiently emphasised. Finally very practical examples were mentioned to reduce the vulnerability of people to trafficking. Travel with documents, give them reference point in the country of destination. And finally, first and foremost ask governments to finance and support preventative measures, such as education of youngsters!

This day made also very clear that we need to work on terminology to distinguish between trafficking, smuggling and prostitution. But the spirit is, let’s go forward and – maybe – create something bigger, like a platform of Catholic Organisations engaged against this crime.

The Caritas delegation was composed by colleagues from Caritas Nicaragua, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Spain and CI.

V Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean of WUCWO (World Union of Catholic Women Organisations) from 8 – 12 April 2013