How the SDGs and the Church can help the fight against human trafficking


Written by Dadirai Chikwengo, who is a CAFOD partner and an advocacy coordinator for Caritas Internationalis

The Catholic Church has recently been demonstrating the leading role it is playing in the fight against trafficking. In October, Pope Francis met participants at an international conference on combating human trafficking. Later in the same week, young people from around the world were invited to provide solutions to the scourge of human trafficking at a joint Holy See-UN initiative focused on how young people can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The event was also a nod to the role that the SDGs and faith groups such as the Catholic Church have in the fight against human trafficking.


How the SDGs aim to tackle trafficking

The SDGs provide a key tool to tackle trafficking. Five of the 17 goals refer to the issue: a recognition of poverty’s role in creating a supply chain of human beings. The framework’s focus on ending poverty provides an opportunity to stymie this chain.

Learn about CAFOD’s work on the Sustainable Development Goals

The most direct target against trafficking comes in SDG 8 which calls for sustainable, inclusive growth and employment. This Goal requires ‘immediate and effective measures’ to end forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking, as well as the protection and promotion of labour rights and safe working environments.

SDG 5 on gender equality broadens the definition of violence against women and girls to include trafficking and exploitation, as well as harmful practices such as early, forced marriages. It mirrors the focus on work from SDG 8 by requiring the recognition of unpaid care and domestic work – some of the most commonly-used trafficking vehicles.


Another explicit mention of trafficking is found in SDG 16 which, with its focus on the institutional promotion of justice and peace, calls for an end to the trafficking of children.

The remaining references in the SDGs are found in the measures the Goals establish on migration. SDG 10 – the reduction of inequality – aims for policies which facilitate safe and regularised movement of people. The implementation of Goal 17 on partnership for sustainable development, which requires authorities to gather information on trafficking levels, also provides an incentive to tackle the issue.

It’s clear that the SDGs shine a spotlight on trafficking. The question, then, is how to translate the SDGs’ promise into practice.

Read about CAFOD and the SDGs

How the Church is tackling trafficking

This is a responsibility the Church is delivering upon. Church agencies such as CAFOD and Caritas Internationalis have led the way in calling for collaboration between governments, civil society and private actors in the delivery of the goals. Without joined-up thinking, the objective of leaving no-one behind risks being left behind itself.

The Church has a critical leadership role as the core institution of so many communities across the world. Pope Francis has himself taken the lead on the issue, as with so many other struggles. Church action has also been visible further down the hierarchy, with a ‘No Human Trafficking’ conference organised by Vatican and local Church agencies last month in Abuja leading to commitments from Catholic and other faith-based organisations to provide ammunition to the fight.


The first commitment is to dialogue and advocacy. The Church can put awareness of human trafficking at the centre of its social and pastoral work – in health care, in counselling, in youth work and in responding to emergencies. It can address the demand side for cheap labour and sexual services by facilitating reflections in the communities it serves. The Church can engage with media to reach out to people who are vulnerable to trafficking, including survivors whose witness to suffering can be transformed into a resource for prevention. It can also work with government by offering its experience and by advocating for rights and appropriate policies.

The second commitment is to education. Family members can involuntarily play into the hands of traffickers through means acknowledged by the SDGs – the following of cultural practices such as early marriage – as well as by hampering the healing of survivors through exclusion. The training of religious leaders is also essential, empowering them in their position as community leaders to speak out.

The third commitment is one that goes to the essence of what it is to be a human being: the demonstration of compassion. The Church can continue to bear witness to this through a non-judgemental approach towards the survivors of human trafficking, enabling and encouraging people to come to us for support.


A golden opportunity

The energy the world is now investing in the fight against human trafficking provides a golden opportunity for us to eradicate this modern slave trade. It is inspiring to see the Church and others utilise the momentum generated by the Sustainable Development Goals by leading that fight.


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