I will buy a young Polish woman cheaply

Katarzyna Woynarowska

Slave trade and any form of man's exploitation - prostitution or slave labour - are reprehensible practices. This is the opinion shared by all-important international institutions, including the Catholic Church. 'Trade (slave trade) is a terrible offence against human dignity and a severe violation of fundamental human rights' wrote John Paul II.
The world officially abhors slavery and any form of exploitation. There are suitable declarations of rights, resolutions and conventions. The rules of international law are precisely defined so that the police in all civilised countries take united actions to fight against this wicked practice. However, it is we, sensitive to safeguard human rights, that face slave trade on an unprecedented scale. There are quasi-labour camps in the centre of Europe, camps where any insubordination is punished by beating workers unconscious with baseball bats. It is in our times that women - in almost wholesale quantities - are sold to brothels. We faced this practice during the FIFA World Cup in Germany. Slave trade, cheap slave labour, illegal human organ trade are not distant realities in poor African or Asian countries. This is not a problem of our neighbouring former Soviet republics or Moldavian villages where half of their populations sold their kidneys to bolster their finances. This has already become our Polish problem that concerns our families, friends and neighbours. The phenomenon of slave trade, i.e. cheap labour force, is becoming more evident when hundreds of our fellow citizens intend to work in some EU country.

Italian 'promised land' becomes a hell

In July the Polish and Italian police managed to free over 100 Polish seasonal agricultural workers who had been enslaved in labour camps in the tomato plantations. Several people are suspected to commit suicide because of brutal treatment; and some Polish women have disappeared. Guns and dogs were used to frighten people. The stories of those who were set free make our hair stand on end with fright. And the whole matter is more bizarre since the people went to those plantations-camps after having read the advertisements in Polish press or even in the labour offices. The police arrested 25 people and it is supposed that the practice affected about 1,000 slaves. Some people are convinced that the 'Italian affair' is only the tip of the iceberg. Sister Bogumila, a Polish nun, who voluntarily looks after Polish workers near Naples, has heard many shocking stories.
'People come here without any idea of what to expect, then they look for any job in order not to return with anything', she explains. 'This makes them take the worst jobs, including prostitution. The nun gives examples. 'A house keeper employed in a house near Rome earns about 900-1,000 euros a month, she does not pay for her food and lives in a separate room and has Sundays off. In comparison for the same job in southern Italy, but without any luxury, I mean a room and a free Sunday, women get about 200 euros a month.'
According to the police Poles earn about 500 euros a month in Italian plantations. 'This is very little', other Polish people, who have lived in Italy for years, say with astonishment. 'They must pay about 350 euros for accommodation and food. So how much will they take home?'

Living objects of trade

The objects of trade are women and children. Although dealers are also interested in poor villagers and people from small towns or poor suburbs. They tempt them with a vision of well-paid jobs, which do not require knowledge of the language and skills. The tradesmen also look for teenagers, who have escaped from their homes, or rebellious kids.
What are they used for? Men are forced to work like horses. Currently, the Italian police are combing the south of Italy since they suspect that Poles are still being forced to work in some plantations. In Italy our tourists are often offered to work on farms because the Italians think that Poles are agrarian workers. 'Do not write that Italy is one big labour camp for Poles, these are only incidents' a young Pole, who has worked near Naples for years, says angrily.
The second market, much bigger, is the pornographic industry and prostitution. One looks for children for paedophile films, illegal adoptions, human organ trade, slave work, drug smuggling as the so-called living drug couriers. In case of rebellion and refusal to work children are beaten, stuffed with drugs or kept without water.

Scale of the trade

It is estimated that 50-60 women are smuggled into Europe every day! Annually the number fluctuate around 120,000. Some are under age. On 'the European market' there is also a demand for women from South America, Asia and Africa. The non-governmental organisation La Strada says that 420,000 women have been sold to work as prostitutes in Europe for the last several years. Every month about 1,000 women of one of Ukrainian towns leave to work abroad. The number of wives sold by post is growing: almost 2,000 every year. But Poland has also got its black statistics. La Strada estimates that 10,000-12,000 Bulgarian women and about 15,000 women coming from our eastern border countries are forced to work as prostitutes in Poland. Poland has not only become a destination but a smuggling channel to Western Europe.

Methods and techniques of the trade

Tradesmen create a fairly thick net in order to catch potential goods. The net is not only created by 'experts' in smuggling but respectable and trustworthy personalities are also involved. The wider structures of smuggling are developed by gangs that are active in the country of the recruitment, transport and destination. The Internet makes it easier to organise slave trade as there are millions of pictures, exchange forums and web sites promoting well-paid jobs and openly encouraging watching pornography, including children's photos.

The Church about slave trade

The pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world Gaudium et spes has strong words that those who sell people 'are supreme dishonor to the Creator.' John Paul II was sad that he could not stop various forms of exploitation in the modern world. He wrote about that in his apostolic letter Mulieris dignitatem (on the dignity and vocation of women) and in his famous letter to women. In his last letter on the occasion of the international conference concerning slavery in Rome in 2002 John Paul wrote, 'The trade in human persons constitutes a shocking offence against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights. Already the Second Vatican Council had pointed to slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, and disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than free and responsible persons.'
The International Conference of the Union of Superiors General, representing 800 women leaders of one million members, was held in 2001. The women religious leaders issued a document entitled 'Many Cultures, One Heart', in which they declared 'to address insistently at every level the abuse and sexual exploitation of women and children... and continue to promote the education and formation of women ... by committing personnel and financial resources'. They kept their word.
Here is an example. During the FIFA World Cup in Germany one spoke about women forced to prostitution. Sr. Lea Eckermann from the Catholic organisation 'Solwodi' asked FIFA to help her rescue those women. Naturally, the problem was ignored although over 2,000 people phoned the helpline. Sr. Lea has been fighting against various forms of slavery, especially women's exploitation, for years. During the championships 16 nuns from various religious congregations and nationalities distributed leaflets, posters and spoke about the shameful problem, which others chose to ignore.

Who fights against slave trade?

There are many organisations. In Europe the pioneer is La Strada, which has also been active in Poland since 1991. There are also the Caritas International and the international Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW). In Thailand, which is regarded as 'a paradise for prostitution and paedophilia', there is an association with official name 'To Stop Children Pornography in Asian Tourism'. And there are many small organisations, like the above-mentioned 'Solwodi' or Italian 'Prisoner's Daughters' (Figlie Prigioniere), non-profit organisation fighting against children's trade as well as the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.
The reasons of slave trade are complicated. Apart from illegal weapons trade and drug trade it is prostitution and cheap labour force that are the most profitable areas. Women and children's discrimination, which is rooted in culture, as well as the destruction of traditional family values, and above all the development of sex business, which crosses borders and operates outside the law, support the areas. The economic gap has been increased in the world. Europe without borders and opening of labour markets have caused people's migrations on an unprecedented scale. On the other hand, stricter migration regulations bring about illegal smuggling channels to richer countries. In the background of these big changes there stay criminal international organisations, which are perfectly organised and almost unpunished - these are the conclusions of research...

"Niedziela" 34/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl