at ‘peace’ Mass
Project Compassion 2003: Traffickers drug women, kids and sell them as slaves
Peter Meduki and Irene Rozario ... Lenten speaking tour for Project Compassion 2003
By Marilyn Rodrigues
An estimated 400-500 women and children are trafficked within Bangladesh and from Bangladesh to Pakistan, India, the Middle East, Malaysia and Indonesia each month.
This trade in human flesh is even thought to be the third most profitable kind of organised crime in the area after arms dealing and drug trafficking, says Irene Rozario, of Caritas Bangladesh.
Traffickers prey upon poor women who are looking for secure employment and a chance of a better life, she says.
The women know little of the truth until they are taken to open markets to be sold to the highest bidder.
Some poverty-stricken parents are tricked into giving their children to the care of traffickers.
And some people are simply drugged and kidnapped.
There is also a growing incidence of young Bangla-deshi boys being kidnapped and sent to the Middle East to work as camel jockeys, says Irene, who is assistant director of the Caritas Development Institute, the training and research centre for Caritas Bangladesh.
Caritas Bangladesh is helping by networking with various agencies working in areas of prevention of trafficking and victim rescue, rehabilitation and repatriation.
Irene and Peter Meduki, executive secretary of Caritas Tanzania, who are here as Caritas Australia visitors, are speaking at Sydney parishes and schools during Lent for the annual Project Compassion appeal.
Human trafficking is, of course, a major topic, as are clean water supply and skills training for women.
Irene, who is also visiting Perth, Adelaide and Port Pirie to promote Project Compassion, will primarily address the problem of human trafficking in Bangladesh and how Caritas Australia through the organisation, Asian Partnership of Human Development, helps to fund a trafficking prevention program.
She is responsible for implementing the South Asian Regional Program on Prevention of Women and Children Trafficking, which began in 2000.
A large part of the program involves workshops for schoolteachers, the staff of small non-government organisations and others to raise awareness of the size of the problem and the tactics of traffickers.
It also seeks to remove the stigma for families who have had a member disappear; many remain silent out of shame which makes research into the problem difficult.
Irene says that in just three years the workshops have made great inroads at the grassroots level in terms of people’s awareness of the dangers of trafficking.
“Now at least women can talk about the trafficking problem,” she says.
“They know to be wary of a strange person roaming around in their village. They will not so easily go with them.”
Irene also conducts training and workshops on topics such as development issues, project planning, human rights and child psychology.
“We are very grateful to the Australian people for helping us,” she says.
“Their money, however little, is making a difference in the life of children and women in our country.”
Peter is also visiting the dioceses of Broken Bay, Parramatta, Sandhurst and Sale during Lent to speak primarily on the work of Caritas Tanzania’s water supply and sanitation program.
He says that many areas of Tanzania do not have access to water, even though the government has stipulated that no one should live more than 400 metres from a clean water source.
Sometimes people have to walk up to 20km to find water.
But Caritas Tanzania’s water program has closed that gap for 40,000 people across five dioceses.
A small change for the better, such as building a well in a village, helps to create a good environment for even more change, Peter says.
Children can go to school and focus better on their classes if they are not exhausted from carting water in the morning.
Caritas Tanzania’s other works include a project to eliminate child labour, income generating projects for youth and women, emergency food aid distribution, AIDS education and training in gender awareness and discrimination.
“One Australian dollar makes a big change for people in Tanzania,” says Peter.
“The relationship between Caritas Australia and Caritas Tanzania is not really a matter of finance, but one of exchange of experience and culture.”