UCAN: Human trafficking top rights challenge, Catholic nun tells interfaith leaders
8/25/2006
UCANews (www.ucanews.com)

RANCHI, India (UCAN) – A Catholic group in Jharkhand reached out to clerics of various religions to obtain their help in combating human trafficking.
Young women from the eastern Indian state are lured to major Indian cities with the promise of lucrative jobs and forced into the flesh trade, says Ursuline Sister Jemma Toppo, who coordinates the Jharkhand Domestic Workers’ Welfare Trust.
“One of the most serious challenges facing human rights today” is human trafficking in its various forms, the nun told about 500 clerics from Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and traditional tribal religions during an Aug. 21 meeting.
The clerics came from various parts of the state for the gathering organized by Sister Toppo’s group and the Jharkhand unit of Action Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children, an NGO.
The meeting in the state capital of Ranchi, 1,160 kilometers (720 miles) southeast of New Delhi, provided a forum for the clerics of all major religions in Jharkhand to address various social evils in the state.
It began with the Catholic nun asking the group whether the women and girls of their communities are safe away from home. “Are you aware where they are and what work they do?” she asked and urged them to try to understand the plight the women could face. “Only then you will be able to save your women and daughters,” she added.
Sister Toppo listed poverty, illiteracy and a lack of awareness rampant in villages as “the root cause of the menace.” According to her, agents visit villages with videocassettes showing rich houses and offices in cities and promise young women jobs if they go with them.
“They also use religious symbols to gain women’s faith,” said the nun, who heads Asha Kiran (ray of hope), a shelter for rescued domestic workers. Only “a robust response” from society can solve this problem, she asserted.
Speaking with UCA News after the meeting, Sister Toppo said the Catholic Church has made a tremendous effort to stop the trafficking of women and girls, and believes it has succeeded among Christian tribal people.
Catholic parents now keep track of their daughters working as maids in cities, but “we cannot reach fully” girls from traditional tribal and other groups. “That’s why we want to involve priests of all religions,” she explained, saying tribal and other groups revere and obey their priests.
Sanjay Mishra, president of Action Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children, agreed that only “concerted efforts” from all groups could tackle the “menace of trafficking.” He told UCA News his group felt encouraged that clergy of all religions attended the meeting.
“We managed to convince them about the consequences of woman and child trafficking, and the importance of their role in stopping trafficking,” Mishra explained. According to the activist, the clerics agreed to take up the matter seriously.
Several clerics later confirmed to UCA News that the meeting helped them understand the gravity of the situation.
Pundit Chandrashekhar, a Hindu priest, said saving women and children from flesh traders should be the foremost religious duty of the priests. He said indifference among priests of various religions has encouraged unchecked trafficking of women from Jharkhand, but their new forum would help the priests to jointly crusade against the social evil.
He commended the church’s efforts to highlight the problem and agreed with Amar Dahanga, a Sarna (traditional tribal religion) priest, that the meeting opened their eyes “to save our women and daughters.”
The Hindu priest said Hinduism reveres women as goddesses and accords them “special respect and place in the society.”
The tribal priest noted that many girls who leave the villages never return, while some come back mentally and physically destroyed. “Most parents are illiterate and can be easily tricked,” he added.
Rev. Abraham Soy, a pastor of the Protestant Church of North India, said the church had worked only within the Christian community to check the problem, but “after this meeting we will start working cooperatively.”
Jesuit Father Linus Kujur, who attended the meeting, said the clerics have to work seriously to enlighten their people about criminals “masquerading as job agents” in the villages.

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