Human trafficking and the church

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Commissioner Christine MacMillan heads up the WEA’s Human Trafficking Taskforce.  She is currently taking part in the Third Lausanne Congregation on world evangelization in Cape Town where she is raising awareness of the plight of human trafficking victims around the world and what the church can do to end this appalling trade.

“At the heart of trafficking is the exploitation of people to make a profit,” says Christine.  “This is a highly organised crime, it is a syndicate business, it is very well organised, and the church cannot be naïve enough to think that it can confront it without the collaboration and cooperation of others, such as law enforcement agencies and prevention taskforces.”


The victims of trafficking in our world today amounts to 27 million.


We most commonly think of trafficking for the illegal sex trade, but in fact there are many different forms.  In some cases, people are trafficked and sold to work long hours in factories and sweatshops, locked up in rooms with no windows and no breaks.  In other cases, children are taken to hospitals where one of their internal organs is removed.


It is poignant that the Congress should take place in Cape Town, where the World Cup was recently held.  There are now traffickers who watch children playing football in towns across Africa and entice them with promises of getting them onto Manchester United or one of the other big teams. 


Thinking their child is a hero, the parents sell their house or car to cover the cost of sending them to what are in reality unlicensed football academies in Europe.  The children live as aliens in undisclosed locations across Europe and are made to play football all day, every day.  Most are never signed and the coaches and agents abandon them to their fate. 


“Trafficking is a global issue because traffickers do not know boundaries of nations,” says Christine. 


Although the trade and exploitation of people is so hidden, there is still much that the church can do about it.  Firstly, they can find out what laws are in place in their country not only to protect individuals from being trafficked but also to ensure that the necessary action can be taken against the perpetrators.  If they discover there aren’t any trafficking laws in their country, they can start advocating for them. 


“There is no point raiding a brothel or a labour trafficking sweatshop if you cannot lay a charge,” she says. 

“It’s not enough to have laws that protect children or people from being kidnapped, because the law is specific.  That means human trafficking laws need to address human trafficking.”

It’s also about having the eyes to see what’s going on in your own neighbourhood.  There are churches in every community and they can be the eyes and ears to spot trafficking. 

Ask yourself some questions: is this happening in my neighbourhood?  Why do I see so many people coming into this house at 11pm and they are all men?  Why are these children out on the streets by themselves? 

“It is about having the eyes to see once you know what you are looking for,” she says. 

But there is another crucial role that the church can play and that’s tackling the demand side.  Christine believes the demand side isn’t talked about nearly enough but there are people suffering from internet pornography addictions and they don’t know how to get out of it.  The church can help them. 

“If there is demand, there will be victims.  The church doesn’t have to point its finger over moral naughtiness.  Rather it can open an invitation that says ‘are you struggling with this?’  ‘Do you want to come and talk about this?’

The challenge is huge and victims are so damaged that it will take years of effort and engagement to restore them but Christine is still optimistic that the church can play a part in ending this atrocity. 

To raise further awareness, the WEA is planning to hold a special Sunday for human trafficking in 2011 and we would encourage all Christians to take part in this day of prayer and action.    

Christine concludes: “This is not a denominational issue.  This is an issue in God’s so loved world that needs to be addressed by churches coming together and taking back their community, their society.


“The WEA represents 420 million Christians and there are around 27 million victims of trafficking that we know of.  I see 420 million lights going on against the darkness of 27 million and I say church, let’s do something.”