Wednesday, 23 March 2011

St. Patrick knew all about human trafficking
By Clint Humfrey
Green beer sales mark the globalized celebration of St. Patrick’s Day and for many who are only Irish once a year little more is thought of.   But it may be time for St. Patrick’s Day to become an occasion of global awareness for something more than the taste of Guinness, namely the problem of human trafficking.
Patrick was only 16 when he was seized by human traffickers.  Removed from his family and home in Roman Britain, he was transported across the Irish Sea to the foreign surroundings of Dalriada  in what is now Northern Ireland.  The traffickers sold Patrick to a local warlord who exploited the young Briton for six years of forced labor.
Patrick escaped and fled Ireland, yet his conversion to Christianity while a slave gave him a mission to return to minister to his former captors.  From that point Patrick’s ministry in Ireland became so significant that his identity and the country’s are difficult to separate.   Yet it is easily forgotten that Patrick’s early experience of his adopted country was as a victim of human trafficking. 
Today when people think of slavery they rarely think of a modern problem, but rather something belonging to earlier centuries. But in the transnational world that is ‘flattened’ modern slavery can take many different forms than those associated with plantations or estates in the Caribbean or American South.
In one scenario, traffickers will promise jobs in foreign countries only to put the victim in a permanent indebtedness so that they must work  without rights and without hope of freedom.  With no advocates in a foreign land of foreign language the victims are forced to rely on the traffickers for their survival.  Long hours of demanding work in unsafe conditions become the desperate reality for these victims that had been promised a job in a land of opportunity.
Another scenario has traffickers offering the allure of marriage or glamorous jobs in modeling or acting in order to force young women into prostitution.  Such exploitation occurs at local levels in every city of  the world but for victims of sex trafficking, the removal from one country to another isolates them further.  Without the language skills to communicate in the foreign country, the sex trade victim cannot seek help even if support services are available locally.
Another horrific product of the globalized sex trafficking economy is the enticement offered to parents to sell their children into prostitution.  The demand to stock child prostitutes for sex tourism destinations such as Thailand is great. In sex trade economics, an unthinkable act by a parent becomes all too commonplace.
Human trafficking is a global and local problem. In order to fight it we need to admit its existence.   Maybe on this St. Patrick’s Day we could take up the challenge by caring less about all things green, and a bit more about the life of Patrick himself.   If we could imagine what life was like for St. Patrick we may have greater empathy for the plight of victims of human trafficking in our communities.
Clint Humfrey is pastor of Calvary Grace Church in Calgary, Alberta and supports

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