Indonesian cardinal wants Catholics to fight trafficking during Lent

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

February 20, 2023

By Ryan Dagur

Christian-majority East Nusa Tenggara province is the largest hub of human trafficking, campaigners says

Indonesian Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo has called on Catholics to fight the scourge of human trafficking during the upcoming Season of Lent.

Hardjoatmodjo termed human trafficking as “one of the greatest crimes against humanity, which directly contradicts the ideals of the common good” in a pastoral letter issued ahead of Lent that begins on Feb. 22.

“Our poorest, most vulnerable and disabled sisters, as well as women of all ages and children, migrants, refugees and our sisters who come from disharmonious families, are very vulnerable to being exploited by human trafficking practices,” the prelate stated in the letter read throughout the archdiocese Sunday Mass on Feb. 19.

He wanted Catholics to fight the crime and said poverty causes many to become victims of human trafficking.

“Help our less fortunate brothers and sisters,” the cardinal said.

The Indonesian church leader urged Catholics to help poor people get formal or informal jobs in micro, small and medium enterprises.

Catholics can also provide them with skills, capital, and marketing technical assistance, and create new jobs. They can also create awareness in society and families about the dangers of human trafficking, he said.

The cardinal’s lent pastoral letter focused on human trafficking as the Indonesian Church has accelerated efforts to fight the evil.

The Church people started an anti-trafficking group in 2018 and are now part of the Zero Human Trafficking Network.A meeting of the network last December requested the cardinal to support the campaign.

Gabriel Goa Sola from ZHTN who attended the meeting said he was very happy that the cardinal had finally voiced his concerns.

He said the cardinal’s statement became important because there were attempts to intimidate activists against trafficking in persons, such as what happened to Father Chrisanctur Paschalis Saturnus, head of the Migrant and Overseas Pastoral Peace Justice Commission of Pangkalpinang diocese who recently faced a police report from a state official for accusing him of complicity in trafficking.

“The cardinal pastor’s letter makes humanitarian fighters, such as Father Paschal, against the human trafficking mafia even bolder in real Lenten action to defend the voice of the voiceless,” he told UCA News.

Sola said he also hoped that the cardinal’s statement could open the eyes and conscience of other religious figures to speak up about the issue.

He said that officials who back trafficking must be arrested and prosecuted, and the state must form the National Agency for Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Persons.

He also said the government needs to review the 2007 law on the Crime of Trafficking in Persons, which only targeted field actors, not the backers.

According to the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Children Protection, human trafficking cases increased from 213 in 2019 to 400 in 2020. Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Indonesia recorded 154 human trafficking cases in 2020 and the victims were mostly teenagers.

Anti-trafficking campaigners say the actual number of trafficking should be much higher as most cases remain unreported.

The Christian-majority province of East Nusa Tenggara is the largest contributor to victims of human trafficking, as many migrant workers work abroad through illegal channels, according to ZHTN.

Data from the province’s Migrant Worker Protection Agency found that from 2018 to May 2022, 480 migrant workers from the province died abroad and only 17 people had legal status.

The United States downgraded Indonesia to Tier 2 Watch List in the 2022 Trafficking In Person report, saying that the country’s anti-trafficking legislation is inconsistent with international law.