The Scriptures of Advent invite us to repair, straighten, restore a way for Christ to come again into our world. The images are powerful. It is in our hands to smooth the coming of God’s reign of justice and peace. It is left to us to prepare a way for God’s people to move beyond whatever holds them captive or oppressed to reach a place of peace and plenty. Advent calls us into the mystery of our deeper lives in Christ. It reminds us that Christ comes into our world today through us: we are the hands, the eyes, the compassion of Christ reaching out to touch our world. We are the healers, the liberators, the presence and action of God here among us.
There is a saying that when a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, weather patterns in the Atlantic Ocean are affected. The saying has many variations and I am not sure whether it is true or not. What I do know is that today, more than ever before, we are discovering the mystery of our interrelatedness with all humanity, our earth and the whole of the cosmos. Our horizons are forced wider and wider, as is the embrace of our compassion, and the scope of our vision.
Today we are more aware of the way our actions affect other persons, other species and the fragile environment. We are more aware of the shadows that encircle our world. Millions of men, women and children walk the rough and twisted pathways of deprivation, exploitation, suffering, powerlessness, and violence. Placed on a road and stretched single file their number would surely wrap around our globe many times. Today we recognize that the problems of the world, like its peoples, are interrelated. We understand that where there is extreme poverty, or chronic conflict, the rights of the most vulnerable are most often violated, and their suffering further amplified.
Extreme poverty [having less than $US 1.00 a day for all ones needs] is the primary catalyst for conflict, the spread of diseases like TB and HIVAIDS, and the forced migration of tens of millions in search of a better life. It is the driving force behind the trafficking of 3 million women and children annually. It is poverty that propels the majority of these victims into the commercial sex trade. Poverty is the seed that produces the bad fruit of contemporary slavery.
Extreme poverty holds an estimated 1 billion people captive in hunger, exploitation, sickness, fear and violence. One prediction adds an additional 89 million people to this number by 2010. One third of deaths, nearly 18 million a year, are due to poverty-related causes. Every year more than 10 million children die of hunger and preventable diseases: over 30,000 per day. Since 1990, 270 million people have died, mostly women and children, roughly equal to the population of the US. (Bread for the World / UNICEF].
Caught on a Highway to Hell
Joalo is seven. He was born in Cambodia. After his parents were killed in political conflict he was sold by his uncle for just three hundred US dollars. The money was needed to buy food. He was handed over to a young woman and smuggled over the border into Thailand where he was forced into the sex tourism industry. Young boys are popular.
Since there is no monitoring of his working conditions, his “employers” are able to leave him locked in a windowless room for most of the day, with water but little food. It is very likely that he will not reach his tenth birthday as the HIVAIDS virus is a constant risk.
Thousands of boys like Joalo work in the sex trade in cities throughout the Asia Pacific, including Australia. Women and girls too are trafficked globally for the sole purpose of sexual exploitation. They are usually from impoverished and therefore vulnerable situations. One of the fastest growing sex trade ‘hubs’ is in the Asia Pacific region embracing all the countries surrounding the Mekong River, including Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and southern China. The many marginalised people of the region are at risk because of lack of access to education, poverty, lack of appropriate information in indigenous languages, cultural and social degeneration within traditional communities, non-traditional drug use, and increasing involvement in the sex trade which leads to high rates of HIV/AIDS infection and transmission, and increased vulnerability to this disease.
Many of the trafficked persons are physically abducted, or lured with half truths or hopes of employment, marriage and the promise of a better life. Once enslaved, sex-trafficked victims are subjected to sexual, physical, and psychological abuse from traffickers, pimps and customers. Many discover that they have incurred a debt which they are bonded to pay off in sexual labour. These debts can last a lifetime, enduring even after a person is repatriated.
The trafficking of persons is a hidden crime, and therefore hard to quantify. Frighteningly, one United Nations Agency suggests that 2.44 million persons are trafficked annually: 43% for sexual exploitation, 32% for labour exploitation; and 25% a mixture of both. It is believed that 80 percent are female and 50 percent are children, and that the majority of these victims are forced into the commercial sex trade. It is known that the trade is growing. There is no doubt that sex trafficking is a lucrative, and therefore booming business. Because the sex trade is normally secretive, locating sex traffickers and sex tourists to justice is immensely difficult.
Franciscans across the Asia Pacific and beyond reach out and rescue the most vulnerable.
They provide programs of immediate aid and empowerment, providing pathways to a better life. The numbers of the afflicted are great and their needs many. Something more is needed to bring about lasting change. Franciscans International participates actively in United Nations efforts to eradicate the conditions of extreme poverty that leave children and women open to sexual exploitation and enslavement.
Can you help us to smooth the pathways of those who walk the rocky roads? Your gift to Franciscans International will help us to do this. Please add a donation to your subscription form or send your donation direct to Australian Treasurer Geoff Jordan tssf.