Human trafficking has become a massive and complicated issue around the world, proving a major challenge for many law enforcement agencies.
The history of slavery in many countries dates back generations; it's an ancient practice that has only been abolished relatively recently in terms of the span of history of human civilisations. That is if you can call any society that condones slavery "civilised".
Human slavery was not outlawed in the United States of America until 1865. In the United Arab Emirates, it was not abolished until 1964. Mauritania was one of the last countries to abolish slavery in 1981, and it was not declared a crime there until 2007.
We are talking about a practice that has a long history; is extremely entrenched in some societies, and can be very lucrative for those who exploit and traffic other human beings for their own personal gain. That makes it a complicated issue to combat.
Women and children, as well as men, are trafficked against their will not only for the international sex trade, but also to be exploited as forced labour, child labour, and as drug mules among other purposes. It's likely that at least some of the clothes and consumer products you have among your own possessions right now were made by men, women and children who were forced to work day and night as trafficked labourers.
One of the key steps to begin the process of eradicating this scourge on humanity, is to raise awareness about the extent of the problem. That's why it was so very encouraging to recently see global religious leaders setting aside their theological differences, and gathering together from a variety of religions (Catholic, Jewish, Anglican, Hindu, Muslim, Orthodox and Buddhist) to speak out against this particularly heinous and damaging type of international crime.
On the morning of December 2, 2014 at the Vatican City in Rome, Pope Francis was joined by the renowned Indian spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi (known around the world as the "Hugging Saint", or more simply as "Amma") and 10 other world religious leaders in a ceremonial signing of a Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery, an initiative of the Global Freedom Network.
Pope Francis commented, "Inspired by our faiths, we have gathered together today because of one historical initiative and one concrete action: to declare that we will work together to eradicate the terrible scourge of modern slavery in all its forms."
"Human trafficking is one of the worst curses plaguing society - not only in this century but since the beginning of time," said Amma, in a speech delivered that same day at the Vatican. "The more we try to eradicate slavery and forced labour, the stronger it seems to rebound."
In addition to Pope Francis and Amma, other interfaith leaders who signed the Declaration were:
Anglican: Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Head of the Anglican Church;
Buddhist: Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) (represented by Venerable Bhikkhuni Thich Nu Chan Khong);
Muslim: Mohamed Ahmed El-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (represented by Dr. Abbas Abdalla Abbas Soliman, Undersecretary of State of Al Azhar Alsharif);
Muslim: Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi;
Muslim: Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Basheer Hussain al Najafi (represented by Sheikh Naziyah
Razzaq Jaafar, Special advisor of Grand Ayatollah);
Muslim: Sheikh Omar Abboud;
Buddhist: Malaysian Buddhist Monk the Ven. Datuk Kirinde Dhammaratana Nayak Maha Thero;
Jewish: Chief Rabbi David Rosen;
Jewish: Rabbi Skorka, the coordinator of the Jewish community in South America.
Orthodox: His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (represented by His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France),
"We are honoured and thankful that His Holiness Pope Francis has gathered us here today under the auspices of the Global Freedom Network," said Amma. "I am optimistic that all global faiths are uniting together to inspire both spiritual and practical actions towards society ending the horror of slavery and human trafficking."
Amma, who will be touring Australia in April 2015, acknowledges that the solution to modern slavery needs to be multi-faceted, and has to provide not only legal protection for trafficked individuals, but also address the root causes of trafficking such as poverty, and poor levels of education. Amma is tackling many of these issues directly through her Embracing the World charitable projects.