Rome Newsroom, Jun 17, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).
The internet enabled human trafficking and sexual exploitation to increase during the pandemic, according to one Vatican official, who has urged that steps be taken to protect human dignity online.
Msgr. Janusz Urbańczyk told the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) that the internet must “not become a medium that fuels the violation of human rights.”
“Action must be taken to ensure that the internet and social media will promote the dignity of the human person,” he said June 16.
Urbańczyk serves as the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the Office of the United Nations and Specialized Institutions in Vienna, Austria. He spoke during three panels of the 21st Conference of the Alliance against Trafficking in Persons.
The Holy See official said that economic regulations need to be enforced to combat human trafficking, which continued to increase during the pandemic.
“As Pope Francis also recently pointed out: ‘Human trafficking finds fertile ground in the approach of neoliberal capitalism, in the deregulation of markets aimed at maximizing profits without ethical limits, without social limits, without environmental limits,’” he said.
“‘An economy without human trafficking is an economy with market rules that promote justice, and not exclusive special interests,’” he added, quoting the pope’s video message for the World Day of Prayer, Reflection and Action against Trafficking in Persons in February.
Urbańczyk cited the Council of Europe’s report on human trafficking in 2020, which predicted that the coronavirus pandemic’s “long-term socioeconomic effects are likely to aggravate the root causes of human trafficking.”
The World Bank estimated that COVID-19 could push as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty in 2021, depending on the severity of the economic contraction, which is one of the key factors that underlies the lives of trafficking victims, he explained.
“As Pope Francis said: ‘In many parts of the world, the crisis has predominantly affected those working informally, who were the first to see their livelihood vanish,’” he noted.
“Living outside of the formal economy, they lack access to social safety nets, including unemployment insurance and health care provision. Driven by desperation, many have sought other forms of income and risk being exploited through illegal or forced labor, prostitution, and various criminal activities, including human trafficking.”
Urbańczyk highlighted the work of Catholic communities around the world to assist victims with shelter and rehabilitation.
“The Catholic Church, through its various institutions, has for a long time been dedicated to the protection of victims of sexual exploitation,” he told the OSCE.
“These projects are frequently carried out with local institutions and associations. Obviously, they are small drops in an ocean, but they can produce examples that can be multiplied with the goodwill of institutions and civil society in order to make the fight against the demand that fuels human trafficking more effective.”
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