Ugandan Nuns Protest Trafficking, Seeing it as an Extension of the Slave Trade

Nuns in Uganda are fighting against human trafficking, seeing it as an extension of the slave trade that plagued Africa for centuries. Sammis Reachers. CC0.

Nuns in Uganda are fighting against human trafficking, seeing it as an extension of the slave trade that plagued Africa for centuries. Sammis Reachers. CC0.

Ugandan nuns are protesting human trafficking as part of the 6,000 member organization Association of the Religious in Uganda. They understand trafficking to be a basic human rights and dignity issue, seeing it as an extension of the slave trade. Their inspiration to fight the issue comes from a variety of sources including Biblical stories, African proverbs, Scripture, and the lives of the saints, notably St. Catherine of Siena, who said that silence kills the world. Groups of nuns have met with government representatives to implore them to combat the issue further.

At a three-day workshop in November 2018 organized by the Africa Faith and Justice Network, nuns examined the global issues facing Africa today, as well as the effects that the centuries of the slave trade have had upon the continent. The issue of human trafficking was seen in a much harsher light following that discussion, as the Africans participating in trafficking are essentially perpetuating the slave trade.

After the workshop, 32 nuns visited the Ministries of Internal Affairs; Foreign Affairs; Gender, Labour and Social Development; and the Uganda Human Rights Commission. These are departments that deal with travel outside Uganda, labor organizations, and citizens’ human rights.

The speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, Rebecca Kadaga, met with 13 Association-affiliated nuns after they petitioned her against abroad workers’ cases of slavery and torture. She said that she blames members of government for faltering on the issue. “Unfortunately, a number of people in government own labour export companies and I am told it is very lucrative so they continued,” Kadaga said, according to the Daily Monitor. Some of the workers who go abroad don’t come back. The nuns are also requesting that the government at least halt the employment of girls, because they are common targets for trafficking and sexual abuse. They also asked for law changes via harsher penalties for those caught trafficking.

"Human trafficking is dehumanising. It exposes our sisters and brothers to untold torture, sexual abuse and slavery. Some of our daughters are trafficked abroad and forced to have sexual intercourse with animals, while some are killed for organ transplant. For those lucky to return home, the trauma they have suffered incapacitates them and makes them social misfits," Sister Teresa Namataka, from Kenya, was quoted as saying in AllAfrica.

In all the meetings, a common point was expressed: a need for collaboration in fighting human trafficking. The nuns made a statement and called for a press conference, both of which caused the fight to gain more media attention. The nuns are currently working on setting up a joint meeting between stakeholders and collaborators to search for a way forward out of this human rights and dignity tragedy.

The religious international anti-trafficking organization Talitha Kum celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and also recently launched the Nuns Healing Hearts campaign, beginning with a photography exhibition documenting the work the organization does around the world to combat trafficking.

Other issues facing Africa today include the devaluation of currency, as well as the adverse effects of globalization. Those are particularly felt through the destruction of local economies by the buildup of discarded objects like computers and refrigerators and the importation of poisonous objects. Africa has many social ills, but the nuns are starting with human trafficking, seeing it as the most alarming.

NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.