Callista Gingrich: Human Trafficking in the Wake of COVID-19
ROME — The COVID-19 outbreak, which originated in Wuhan and was turned into a pandemic by the Chinese Communist Party’s lack of transparency, has dramatically changed our world. In far too many places, people are dying, health care systems are overwhelmed, economies are at risk, and the future remains uncertain.
However, one global industry has been largely impervious to the COVID-19 health crisis – one that destroys families and communities, weakens the rule of law, and robs millions of their human dignity. That industry is human trafficking.
During this pandemic, while millions around the world have lost their livelihoods, human traffickers continue to prey upon the most vulnerable. They have capitalized on the chaos of the moment – exploiting communities and individuals already disproportionately vulnerable to poverty, exploitation, and abuse.
Many victims face escalating threats. Countless victims are being forced to live in quarantine with their traffickers, who in some cases are their own family members. The pandemic has made safe and supportive housing for survivors more important than ever.
Experts have explained that pandemic lockdowns and quarantines make it more difficult for authorities to identify trafficking cases. Furthermore, travel restrictions make it more difficult for victims to escape.
The pandemic has also had a negative impact on trafficking survivors, many of whom depend on essential medical and mental health services, such as counseling and support groups, which are difficult to provide under COVID-19 restrictions.
Many survivors, like others, have lost their jobs through no fault of their own due to pandemic shutdowns. With economic instability, survivors are more vulnerable and thus more likely to be targeted again by traffickers. As the economic fallout of this pandemic continues, additional men, women, and children are likely to become victims of forced labor and sex trafficking.
While we struggle with COVID-19, we must simultaneously continue the fight against human trafficking.
Faced with this great challenge, President Trump and the United States Government remain committed to protecting trafficking victims, prosecuting traffickers, and ending modern slavery.
On September 21, Attorney General William Barr announced that the U.S. Justice Department will provide more than $100 million in grants to combat human trafficking. This money will go to special task forces working to defeat traffickers, support research and evaluation, and to provide services and housing to victims.
Combatting the global evil of human trafficking is one of our embassy’s top priorities, and a cornerstone of our relationship with the Holy See.
On October 14, the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See will continue its advocacy through a symposium, Combatting Human Trafficking: Action in a Time of Crisis. The event will be livestreamed from the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) in Rome.
Experts will discuss the impact of COVID-19 on victims of human trafficking and explore how governments, law enforcement, and faith-based organizations can effectively respond.
I am pleased that Ambassador John Cotton Richmond, the United States Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, will participate in this symposium, along with Cardinal Michael Czerny, Under-Secretary of the Holy See’s Migrants and Refugees Section, as well as a panel of anti-trafficking experts.
This symposium will highlight two important milestones in the effort to end human trafficking.
First, 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The act, signed into law on October 28, 2000, established the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons – our country’s first office solely dedicated to combating all forms of human trafficking. The act also mandates the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which has become a critical tool of U.S. diplomacy.
2020 also marks the 20th anniversary of the Palermo Protocol, adopted by the United Nations on November 15, 2000, as a multilateral tool to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons.
Today, 178 countries are signatories to this Protocol, making it one of the most widely adopted international accords in history.
As this pandemic has illustrated, global crises require global solutions – across all sectors of society.
Human trafficking, like COVID-19, is a global emergency that affects us all. Together, we can save lives and end this horrific injustice.
Callista L. Gingrich is U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See