Helping stop human trafficking

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

TRAFFICKING in people and children can and sometimes do take place in plain sight.

It takes place globally, as well as right here in Trinidad and Tobago. For several years the Congregation of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, through its ministry, The Franciscan Institute for Personal and Family Development, has been committed to working to break the silence, break the chains and help stop human trafficking in Caribbean countries where they serve.

Since 1976, the congregation started to work with combating human trafficking in Italy.

In 2005, it expanded this ministry and in 2007 when it became very obvious that there was an international commercial sex market that was becoming worse, the leadership of the congregation mandated that every one of its international network would work to help stop human trafficking and integrate this mission in all ministries.

The Franciscan Institute, which is established in TT, Grenada and St Lucia in keeping with the congregation’s mandate, embraced the initiative to help stop human trafficking. The institute’s anti-human trafficking programmes adopted three of the four Ps set out by the United Nations to combat human trafficking: Prevention, Partnership and Protection.

Education is the key tool used to awaken public consciousness. The institute’s work include education sessions and workshops in primary and secondary schools and webinars on how this crime can be prevented and reported.

During the covid19 pandemic, an increase usage of social media was noted. The institute took the opportunity to educate parents, teachers, school leaders and young people on what is online grooming and how it can lead to sexual exploitation, especially among children.

These webinars were done by Dr Karen Moore, clinical child psychologist and co-ordinator of the institute’s trauma team. In addition, the institute conducted cyber safety workshops in partnership with the organisation Cyber Safe TT.

Over the years, the institute has increased its collaboration with the Counter Trafficking Unit (CTU), faith-based organisations, inter-faith organisations, NGOs, Government and anyone or any group willing to work to alleviate this crisis.

In 2020 and this year, an effective outreach mechanism implemented by the Franciscan Institute together with the CTU created and installed 28 park benches at schools, churches and NGOs throughout the country.

The awareness signage on the benches contained important bilingual information for people to report incidents or suspicious activities. Using a survivor-centred approach, the institute has assisted with providing food, care packages and mental health support to survivors of human trafficking and vulnerable people.

We aim to continue to partner with the Ministry of National Security’s Counter Trafficking Unit and its stakeholders. Let us all take action to protect the innate dignity of human life and prevent people from becoming victims of this hideous crime “against humanity.”

Contact the Counter Trafficking Unit hotline 800-4CTU (4288). Report suspected cases at 800-4CTU (4288) or to your nearest police station.