English cardinal: Young Africans being seduced into modern slavery

Delegates against human trafficking attend a conference Saturday at Lancaster House in London. (CNS/ Catholic Communications Network/Marcin Mazur)

Manchester, England — Young Africans are being seduced into modern slavery by the promise of a dream that never comes true, an English cardinal told a conference on human trafficking.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster said "there seems to be no enticement that isn't being used" by human traffickers to entrap children.

The cardinal told the conference Saturday that he was shocked to learn of the "extent and type of enticement and abuse of people that goes on in Africa" in particular. He cited as an example the offer to play soccer in the English Premier League to children who appear to excel at the sport.

"As soon as they get to England they are enslaved," said Nichols, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. His remarks were reported by the British Broadcasting Corp.

"They come in search of a dream, but of course don't find it," he said.

"There are plenty of people who are willing to entice them and sell them the dream in order to get them here," he added.

Nichols made his comments during the second international conference of the Santa Marta Group, which met Dec. 5-6 in London.

The conference, "Taking the Lead on Human Trafficking," involved a gathering of senior politicians, police, and church representatives with the aim of "developing strategies to combat human trafficking," said a pre-conference statement by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.

It was attended by Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, London police commissioner; British Home Secretary Theresa May; and Karen Bradley, minister for modern slavery and organized crime.

In a Dec. 5 message of support to the conference, Pope Francis said he was "deeply grateful" for the resolve of the participants "in combating this evil."

"Your labors to promote ongoing dialogue on the legal remedies to human trafficking and on the essential care of those who suffer this enslavement are especially important because of the hidden nature of this crime," the pope said.

"We must never forget, nor may we ignore, the suffering of so many men, women and children whose human dignity is violated through this exploitation," he said, adding that he could assure the conference that the Catholic church "remains steadfast in her pledge to combat human trafficking and to care for the victims of this scourge."

The Santa Marta initiative was launched by Pope Francis at the Vatican April 10, when he described human trafficking as a "crime against humanity ... an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ."

The conference in London sought to build on the joint police and church initiative in England that has been running for three years in the hope that good practice will be copied, developed and adapted around the world.

In a Dec. 3 statement, Nichols said: "There is much to be done, but the emergence of the Santa Marta Group's international network is an important step toward helping the victims and fighting this crime."

The conference heard that there had been a fourfold rise in victims of human trafficking seeking help from British authorities over the past four years.

According to the BBC, Hogan-Howe said: "Often, people are trafficked at a young age believing that they are entering a better world, when in reality they are entering a far worse world from which they cannot escape."

The British government's Home Office has estimated that about 13,000 people have been trafficked in the U.K. into activities ranging from prostitution to domestic service and work on fishing boats.

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