Human Trafficking: a brief theological reflection 


The Human Rights Commission of the Anglican Diocese of the Amazon decided to support the realization of an informative panel on human trafficking, in the Cathedral of St. Mary, Belém – PA, demonstrating its total rejection of this kind of violence against human beings. A courageous attitude considering that this subject involves organized crime with international connections, exchanging 35 billion reals every year, and about which society keeps a “silent pact of moral reprobation and practical accepting”[1], especially in our region of the Amazon. Nevertheless, the Commission made this decision believing that part of the prophetic vocation of the Church is to denounce all kinds of atrocities that are committed against humanity and life on the planet.

However, this silence has been broken in some way. Since the beginning of this century, human trafficking has come to the attention of national authorities and international organizations. As a result, a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPI) was constituted in the Federal Chamber. The same thing happened at the Legislative Assembly in Pará with the objective of “investigating Human Trafficking in the State of Pará for sexual exploitation, slave labour, and the removal and commercialization of organs.”[2]. The theme has also become more visible in society in general when it was touched on by Glória Perez in a soap opera on the TV channel Rede Globo de Televisão, Salve Jorge.

The Brazilian State is deficient in many ways in its attempt to confront this problem because of the lack of public policies and specific legislation. Even when it comes to defining this crime we use a document from the United Nations called Palermo Protocol, in which human trafficking is defined as:“the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”[3]

It is clear, from the beginning, that, in order to confront this issue, we need a series of well-articulated actions, as it is a complex issue that wounds the dignity of human beings and needs a multidisciplinary approach. Aware of this, in this text I don’t intend to invade the area of other specialists, nor present data collected by the various different parliamentary commissions that have been working hard on concrete cases. My only intention here is to contribute with a brief theological reflection that supports the actions of people with good intentions who have come together to fight against injustice and in the construction of a better world.

First of all, we learn in the Bible that God takes sides. We don’t believe in a neutral God, who is impartial, indifferent to human problems. Our God is always on the side of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized[4]. One example of this we can find in the book of Exodus, when God takes on the struggle for the liberation of a group of slaves in Egypt. This bible text is well-known in Latin American theology: “I heard the cry of my people against their oppressor… Therefore, I came down to set them free (Exodus 3:7-8). This is also how we see the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as the ultimate expression of his identification with the powerless and abandoned (Philippians 2:7-8).

It´s for this reason we Christians are called to respond to human need through loving service, to transform the unjust structures of society and to preserve the integrity of creation, sustaining and renovating life on earth[5]. A document from the World Council of Churches reminds us that: “the Church’s place is alongside the innocent, the sacrificed lambs, the persecuted, the poor, the weak… victims, offering itself to them, completing Christ’s suffering in its body, so that the world may have life”[6]. It is not a question of an option that we may or may not choose, like some kind of accessory, we are talking about the essence of the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth. Our spirituality inevitably brings us together (1 John 4:20), to care for the excluded and downhearted.

We are also obliged to recognise the dignity of all people, as our Holy Scriptures teach us that we were created in the “image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26). This is why Jesus of Nazareth carried out his ministry in this direction, always emphasizing the dignity of each person, even quoting the psalmist who refers to all human being as “gods and sons of the Most High” (Psalm 82:6). The well- known Indian greeting, namastê, symbolizes this understanding very well. The gesture of bowing in front of another person has the meaning of “the god that is in me greets that god that is in you”. Anything that maculates this divine image, reflected in us, should be denounced and tackled.

We know that trafficking supplies people mainly for prostitution forced labour and the supply of organs (although there are also more subtle forms). In all this we also need to talk about the value of the body. Even today, for many Christians, talking about the body is still a taboo, a difficult contradiction to accept in a religion that has written in part of its principal doctrinal discourse: “I believe in the resurrection of the body”. Fortunately, in the last few years, several different theological approaches have been trying to correct this diversion of the past and to regain the value of the body as part of the project of salvation. As Rubem Alves affirms well, our starting point could be the simple principal that “God made us flesh and blood”[7]. It is within the human body that what we call the spirit resides and reveals itself. “The nature of the world is part of our own nature and that of Jesus, the son of God, perfect image of God (cf. Phil 2, 5-11)”[8].

Therefore, among the victims of human trafficking, we see the face of Christ, whose body was subject to the violence of torture. In their bodies the victims complete Christ’s suffering (Colossians 1:24). The body becomes a sanctuary for the divine encounter. As Jesus himself says that the criterion to enter the Kingdom of God and to join him, is in the gesture we make in favour of another person’s body: “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; I was naked and you clothed me” (Mathew 25:35-36).

Human trafficking has grown in our time, and many elements that cooperate for that expansion are “globalization, poverty, the lack of job opportunities, gender discrimination, domestic violence, political and economic instability in regions of conflict, irregular immigration, sexual tourism, corruption of civil servants and deficient laws”[9]. But, principally we understand that human trafficking is the result of the dominant ideology in the Western world which turns everything into a product and reifies human beings. This is the logic of the empire, which we are submitted to, the formation of powers in the new globalized society that creates a system of domination and exploitation. For the empire, the body, the human being, is just another product to be sold. It is a profitable market, generating more income than trafficking drugs or weapons.

As in the days when John wrote the book of Revelations, we need to fight against the ideology of the empire, and maintain our loyalty to the divine Project of the construction of the Kingdom of God, redeeming the dignity of all human beings. Fighting against all forms of exploitation and oppression should be everyone’s duty, but especially those who call themselves Christians, as we have received the commissioning to be the salt and light of the world (Mathew 5:13-14).

Because of its complexity, we know that human trafficking will never be stopped through local initiatives, only through global action will we achieve results. As Christian communities, we have the possibility of creating networks of solidarity around the world, to tackle this and other forms of de-humanization. Unfortunately, our divisions prevent us from being more efficient in what we do. While people are being made slaves and prostitutes we are discussing who can and can’t take part in the Eucharist, while children are being violated and having their organs removed, we are writing theological treaties on whose souls will reach Paradise.

I hope that one day we may overcome our petty differences and join our forces for the construction of a new world, the utopia of the divine kingdom idealized by Jesus of Nazareth where all will have “life in abundance” (John 10:10). We cannot remain indifferent to the serious problems of humanity, to the violence against our brothers and sisters, being neutral is an option in favour of the executioners.

+Saulo Barros

* Belém, 15th December 2012


[1] Marcel Hazeu <http://amaivos.uol.com.br/amaivos09/noticia/noticia.asp?cod_noticia=18674&cod_canal=41>

[2] Legislative Assembly of Pará. Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry on Human Trafficking in the State of Pará. Final Report. Pg. 15.

[3] Additional protocol to the Transnational Convention of the United Nations of 2000. <http://www2.mre.gov.br/dai/m_5017_2004.htm>

[4] Desmond Tutu has this very reflection in his book “God is not a Christian – and other provocations”. Rio de Janeiro: Thomas Nelson Brasil, 2012. Pg. 82.

[5] “Five Marks of Mission” approved by the Lambeth Conference of 1988.

[6] POULTON, John. A Celebração da vida. Rio de Janeiro: CEDI, 1983. Pg. 65.

[7] ALVES, Rubem. Creio na ressurreição do corpo: meditações. São Paulo; Edições Paulinas, 1984.

[8] SOARES, Sebastião Armando Gameleira. Pastoral Letter: Advent 2012.

[9] BARBOSA, Cíntia Yara Silva. Significado e abrangência do “novo” crime de tráfico internacional de pessoas: perspectivado a partir das políticas públicas e da compreensão da doutrina e jurisprudencial.(Meaning and extent of the “new” crime of international human trafficking: from the perspective of public policies and the comprehension of doctrine and jurisprudence.) Pg. 06. <http://pfdc.pgr.mpf.gov.br/atuacao-e-conteudos-de-apoio/publicacoes/trafico-de-pessoas/significado-e-abrangencia-do-novo-crime-de-trafico-internacional-de-pessoas-perspectivado-a-partir-das-politicas-publicas-e-da-compreensao-doutrinaria-e-jurisprudencial-cintia-barbosa>