Faith-based organizations and religious leaders around the world are working in cooperation with governments and NGOs to help trafficking victims and raise awareness about human trafficking.

However, despite all the good work being done by religious communities to address human trafficking, the 2022 edition of the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report also highlighted how religious beliefs, groups and leaders have been complicit in trafficking.

  • Argentina: “Law enforcement reported seven investigations involving religious organizations; in one such investigation, officials raided a fringe religious group that compelled its members to work for its leaders’ benefit, arresting six suspected traffickers and identifying 12 victims.” and “Religious sects and other organizations serve as fronts for traffickers.”
  • Cameroon: “Trafficking networks generally consist of local community members, including religious leaders and trafficking victims who have become perpetrators.”
  • Cote d’Ivoire: “Some Ivoirian community and religious leaders, possibly working with others abroad, reportedly recruit Ivoirian women and girls for work in the Middle East and Europe; some women and girls are then exploited in forced labor in Europe, North Africa, and Gulf countries, primarily Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.”
  • Djibouti: “Observers reported families or village elders often settled allegations of forced labor informally through traditional arrangements between religious and community leaders, without recourse to the formal court system.”
  • Indonesia: “Middle Eastern tourists come to Indonesia, particularly Puncak district in Bogor, and pay more than $700 for a ‘contract marriage,’ usually up to one week in duration, that allows them to have extramarital sex without violating Islamic law. The girls are as young as age nine, and some of the women that the tourists ‘marry’ are sex trafficking victims. While this is a religious practice, there is tacit government acceptance.”
  • Iran:
    • “The government reportedly condones and, in some cases, directly facilitates the commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of adults and children throughout the country; Iranian police, IRGC, Basij, religious clerics, and parents of victims are allegedly involved in or turn a blind eye to sex trafficking crimes.”
    • “‘Temporary’ or ‘short-term’ marriages — for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation known as sigheh — lasting from one hour to one week are reportedly widespread in Iran and take place in so-called ‘chastity houses,’ massage parlors, and private homes. These arrangements are reportedly tightly controlled, condoned by the state, and regarded highly by religious leaders to allow men to sexually exploit female and male Iranians, as well as Chinese, Thai, and other victims, including children.”
  • Israel: “Israeli authorities indicted a suspect for allegedly holding people in conditions of slavery while operating a religious cult by allegedly forcing women and children to provide any earnings to the suspect and to perform involuntary domestic work; media reporting also alleged the suspect sexually exploited the victims.”
  • Mali: “An NGO report attributes some of the increased demand for sex trafficking in mining communities to cultural and religious beliefs, correlating sex with increased chances of finding gold, and it also noted corruption schemes involving complicit officials and community authorities perpetuated trafficking.”
  • Republic of the Congo: “Observers noted children in mining areas are vulnerable to sexual violence, including sex trafficking, in part due to traditional and religious beliefs correlating harming children and sex with protection against death or successful mining.”
  • Senegal: “An NGO report attributes some of the increased demand for sex trafficking in mining communities to cultural and religious beliefs correlating sex with increased chances of finding gold.”
  • Togo: “The government worked to reduce the demand for forced child labor by continuing to partner with traditional religious leaders to eliminate exploitation in religious ‘apprenticeships,’ which involve parents entrusting their children to religious leaders for education and employment purposes, who exploit them in forced domestic work or sexual slavery when parents are unable to pay ‘apprenticeship fees.’”
  • Turkey: “Syrian [refugee] girls as young as 12 are married to adults in unofficial religious ceremonies, particularly in poor and rural regions, and subsequently are vulnerable to domestic servitude and sex trafficking.”
  • United States: “Traffickers compel victims to engage in commercial sex and to work in both legal and illicit industries and sectors, including in … religious institutions, child care, and domestic work.”
  • Yemen: “An international organization noted the heightened use of ‘summer camps’ by the Houthis to recruit, indoctrinate, and use children; Houthis ran 186 ‘summer camps’ that were documented during the reporting period and attended by children ages 10 to 15. Reportedly, these camps were held in schools with the objective to deliver cultural, ideological, political, and religious sessions and, in some cases, military and combat training.”

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000, followed by several reauthorizations. This legislation established requirements aimed at preventing trafficking, prosecuting traffickers and protecting victims, while also mandating an annual trafficking report from the State Department.

Nations were initially ranked into three tiers based on the State Department’s assessment of anti-trafficking efforts, with a fourth tier added in 2008.

Tier 1 countries meet TVPA minimum standards, with 30 nations placed in this category in the 2022 report.

Ninety-nine countries were placed into the Tier 2 category, denoting countries that do not completely meet TVPA minimum standards but have made substantial efforts to do so.

Tier 2 watch list is for countries that do not meet minimum standards, have seen an increase in trafficking and lack sufficient documentation of efforts to reduce trafficking. There were 34 nations in this category for 2022.

Twenty-two countries were in Tier 3, indicating that they have not met the minimum standards and not made any effort to achieve them.

Libya, Somalia and Yemen were not included in a tier but were designated as special cases based on a determination that their governmental functions were significantly hindered due to a variety of factors.

“Everyone should be free. And yet, through force, fraud, and coercion, human traffickers violate this most basic right. Traffickers’ exploitative practices affect every country in the world, including the United States, by diminishing and destroying our communities, sense of security, and the global economy,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated in a forward to the report. “Human trafficking affects us all. Its impact ripples across the fabric of our global community. We must work together, and in partnership with survivor leaders, to effectively address this crime.”

The full report is available here.

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