Early this year, on 6th March, the Sisters in the Irish Province were invited to attend a morning of reflection on the theme of combating human trafficking as a Gospel imperative. Dr Suzanne Mulligan of the Pontifical University, Maynooth gave two talks and Sr Una O’Neill RSC responded to the talks.
The attendance was small, but those who were there expressed their appreciation. Dr Mulligan reminded us that in every age there are people who are victimised – the poor, the orphan, the widow and the stranger in the land.
The prophets consistently called the people of God to be mindful of these people and to care for them, and Jesus reiterated the call of the prophets and also showed his preference for the poor and weak members of society.
Today, global events such as wars, climate change, tsunamis and drought create new victims who are easily preyed on by unscrupulous people, ready to exploit them for personal gain. Criminal gangs have organised human trafficking into a multi-million dollar business, using physical violence, fear, blackmail, deceit and coercion to procure and retain their victims. In keeping with our charism, the Sisters of Charity have been involved for many years in combating human trafficking and have had this work, together with caring for the earth, mandated by the General Chapters of 2001 and 2007.
Act to Prevent Trafficking (APT)
The Irish Province has been actively participating in the activities of APT. This year, 2015, was a very busy year for APT, an initiative of CORI (Conference of Religious of Ireland) founded in 2005. Sr Eilís Coe represents the Sisters of Charity at the meetings and is on the steering committee. Sr Mairéad of the General Leadership Team is also a member and comes to the meetings when her commitments allow. APT meets once a month in Mary Aikenhead House, Donnybrook, which is an excellent venue and greatly appreciated. Normally there are about twenty members present for each meeting, one representative from each congregation, two or even three if the congregations have different provinces in the country e.g. the Mercy Sisters. There are four priest-members, one of whom is a Kiltegan Father and the other three are Spiritans.
The main work of APT is awareness-raising. This is done in various ways:
Giving presentations in schools, colleges and other institutions.
There is a very good response from schools, mostly for students in Transition Year, the fourth year of Secondary School. The students show great interest in learning about human trafficking. Stanhope Street Secondary School welcomed us and facilitated us in every way. It is a sobering thought that the young people in school are the potential victims and perpetrators of human trafficking in future. By educating them, giving them good moral training and helping them to develop self-esteem, the schools are helping young people to avoid these situations. Many students have been actively working in anti-trafficking by doing projects and organising events on the theme of anti-human trafficking. The entries for the Young Social Innovators, an initiative of ICI, have been inspiring.
Addressing Church Leaders
Recently, APT members have been speaking to the Bishops’ Conference with the aim of having groups established in all the parishes of the different dioceses. The bishops were very receptive. Subsequently, priests and pastoral council members were invited to presentations given by APT members; however, the response has been quite disappointing. APT will continue to work on getting more involvement by parish councils. The aim is to establish continuity, ensuring that the work goes on when the APT members, most of whom are quite senior, have to cut back on the work. Fr Gerry Campbell of the Diocese of Armagh showed great initiative and generosity when he did a sponsored run in the spring of this year. His run “From the Bann to the Boyne” raised funds which APT was able to share with Ruhama.
APT networks with other organisations within Ireland such as Ruhama, MECPATHS, ICI, TORL, AHTU, Tirzah, Doras Luimní, NASC. Whenever these groups are running a campaign, we support them and we also benefit from the information they so generously share with us.
APT was instrumental in setting up RENATE (Religious of Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation). RENATE provides training and support and draws its membership from all across Europe. Unlike Ireland, most other European countries provide services for the rehabilitation of women who have returned home after being freed from traffickers. Trafficking of Irish women and children takes place within the country, according to AHTU, the Anti Human Trafficking Unit of the Department of Justice and Equality, so, to our knowledge, there are no women who have returned home after being trafficked out of Ireland.
This year, 2015, Sr Eilís Coe joined the Board of RENATE as the Irish representative. In October 2015, RENATE held their training in All Hallows College, with APT members assisting by meeting the delegates at the airport and escorting them to the venue. They also attended an open evening in All Hallows, where they shared experiences with the visitors. Later in the week, RENATE and APT members united to pray in Solas Bhríde, Tully, Co Kildare and APT hosted a meal and provided entertainment in Silken Thomas, Kildare Town.
www.aptireland.org provides information and resources for anyone who wants to avail of it. The tool kit, which is on the home page, can be downloaded and used with groups. Sr Eilís contributes to the website by writing reports, stories and poems on the theme of trafficking and by working in the social media group within APT.
APT members keep an eye out for relevant news and information in the print media and share the details with one another.Some APT members have submitted articles to newspapers and magazines. Eilís Coe has written articles and stories for the Dominican magazine Spirituality and one article for The Sacred Heart Messenger.
Congregational Anti Trafficking Team
In July 2015, the Congregational group met in Emmaus, Swords. The week was facilitated by Sr Veronica Brand RSHM and was a wonderful opportunity to share what is happening in the work of anti-trafficking throughout the Provinces and Regions. Through our prayer and reflection and sharing our experiences, we were renewed in our commitment to the work and our determination to keep in touch so that we draw inspiration and support from one another, grounding our actions in our charism of service of the poor.
We visited AHTU at the Department of Justice and Equality where we were addressed by Mr Michael Quinn, Vice Principal. Mr Quinn gave us some valuable information, including the facts that Irish children are now being trafficked within the country and that most of the victims of trafficking being brought into Ireland are now coming from Brazil, whereas formerly Nigeria was the source of most of those trafficked to Ireland.
We also visited MECPATHS (Mercy efforts to combat prostitution and trafficking in the hospitality sector) in Baggot Street. Sr Mary Ryan RSM gave us a presentation, pointing out that hotels are locations of sexual exploitation of vulnerable women and children. MECPATHS has given training sessions for hotel managers, alerting them to the signs of trafficking. Sr Mary also said we should check before booking a hotel to see whether the hotel has an anti-trafficking and child protection policy.
The play, Letters from my Mother, written by Kanthi, Sr Kathleen Bryant’s companion and co-worker, and presented in Gardiner Place was very moving. The support from RSCs living in Ireland or visiting from other countries was overwhelming and greatly appreciated. Who can forget Winston Moyo’s beautiful song – “Let us rise as one, fight human trafficking. It’s real, believe me it’s real”? Winston is an untiring campaigner, raising awareness in Zambia as Sr Kayula’s co-worker. Winston’s videos can be seen on YouTube.
Our report was presented to our respective Provincial and Regional Leadership Teams and will result in a follow-up in the communities in the New Year. We look forward to giving presentations to clusters of communities in the Province and also to preparing and sharing prayers for an end to human trafficking. At our meeting, we discussed the idea of “shelter” and the possibility of providing safe spaces for victims of trafficking, which has been done in years past by some of our Sisters. This would be done in co-operation with Ruhama, who provide such services.
Sr Patricia Kenny forwards the UNANIMA newsletter to us each month. Sr Eilís sends it to the communities in Ireland. The Sisters who respond and who make the letter available to community members are doing a great service and this is appreciated.
Websites worth looking at: