26 January 2021
Freedom and human trafficking
Do you want to know what Easter looks like in action? That is what Luke is showing us in the stories of the early church in Acts. They tell us that to act takes courage and often leads to trouble but the Spirit may well send us into confrontations we did not really choose. This is still happening
Say "Nepal" to a New Zealander and we think - Mountains, Ed Hillary and maybe Schools in the high mountain villages. What we don't often hear about is that one of Nepal's biggest exports is children and young women.
In a film by Puchira Gupta we start with the story of a young man who lives in one of the poorest countries of the world, Nepal. His parents have gone to India to work leaving him with the family debt to pay. He is trapped, so when a kindly person learns about his plight and comes to him, he listens.
"You have a sister?" "Yes she's 14" "well I can get her a job in a carpet factory in Katmandu and give you 3,000 rupees"
So her brother tells his sister to go with the kind stranger. And she, brought up in a culture where women are taught to do what their fathers, brothers and any men of the family say, goes. Then the stranger comes and sees his other sister, she is nine years old.
" I can give you 10,000 rupees and she could come and work in a home".
And she goes.
Later, when he has paid the debt he goes to look for his sisters and cannot find them.
They have been taken to the brothels of Mumbi. where many of these children are held in locked premises, often underfed, and where the Aids rate is 60%. By their middle teens may have developed full blown aids and when they are too ill or no longer attractive for the trade they are thrown into the streets.
A Christian shelter rescues some and sends them home, but looks after many who have been rejected by the families who were tricked into selling them. One Indian politician, a devout Hindu, runs rescue raids for the girls, to free them to go home, but often these are thwarted by the corruption of the local police who benefit from a protection racket they operate.
It is big business, this trade in people. The modern slave trade is widespread today. The United Nation statistics show that in Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Russia and China trafficking in people is big business.
This includes many children. The children are used in different ways In Somalia.there is a big problem selling children for child labour. Lul Hassan Matan, who was the director of child protection in Somalia's National Human Rights Commission, says. "Whenever you see a child in the street crying and ask him or her why, they respond they are not with their parents, but have been brought in to work."
All over the world, including a significant problem in the United States, people are being bought and sold. At present there is an international move to raise people's consciousness about the trade in order to stop it - to render slavery unacceptable.
The widely used definition of People trafficking is
the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring and receiving a person through the use of force, coercion or other means for the purpose of exploiting them. A victim of people trafficking is deceptively recruited into exploitative conditions; they may be bonded to their traffickers through an unacceptable debt and in many cases kept in slave-like conditions.
In Nepal the young girls of the hill country are desperately at risk and as rescue organizations get the girls home, and their mothers and the women hear about what has happened there has been a move by the women to get girls educated and to change their second class citizenship which makes them vulnerable to being taken. The same conditions make the people very open to the message of the Maoist liberation movements which are taking the country over from its feudal system at the moment.
At the same time the recruiters are getting more sophisticated in their methods. They send out girls dressed in fine clothes to a village, the girls look on in an admiration fueled by the images they see on Television. "How did you get like that ?" They are told they can be like this too and are tricked into going with the recruiter.
When Paul and Silas visited the Roman colony of Philippi in the first century, slavery was part of society. Paul has met a local businesswoman down by the river, the place of prayer for the local Jews, and she has heard his message of the freedom and salvation Jesus brings and as happens where the Spirit of God is moving opens her home to him to offer hospitality to the travelers.
We hear that as Paul and Silas go about their task of preaching the good news they are followed by a slave girl.
. Her work was to tell people's fortunes, In a city where going to the oracles were how you planned your life, the slave girl made money for her master. She was irritating because she followed them "for many days" calling out the truth. Her insight was being diverted to these strangers. After a number of days of this Paul gets annoyed, up till then this woman had been part of the scenery, he really hadn't seen her, but now he turns and cured her of the disability which was used to tell fortunes, removed the cause, in this case demonic as is anything which destroys us..
Paul causes her to lose her job, her price on the slave market is devalued and the lucrative business of the master is wrecked. He has no further income from this girl.
When you really start acting with the good news there are consequences. Paul and Silas didn't get back to Lydia's home that night because the angry owner, took the high moral ground and attacked, " when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities
They complained that these men are disturbing our city; breaching the peace translate really "rocking the boat"
That they "are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in to attack. The magistrate , without worrying about any facts, facts and truth go out the door when making someone a common enemy, had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods.
All is not what it seems as the story continues for Paul and Silas, the prisoners, set the one who imprisons them, the jailer free. Once again the Spirit moves and the jailer offers hospitality and he and his family are baptized.
Then Paul refuses to be sneaked out of town by the now embarrassed magistrates but asks for and receives an apology . He goes to visit the fledgling church at Lydia's to make sure they know what has happened. Maybe that day there was a slave girl and a jailor among those meeting, but Paul did not just visit and leave the local church with his mess but ensured that they were not going to suffer the consequence of his actions
God is at work freeing people.
Paul did not see with our eyes the endemic evil that was part of the Roman empire and one which it was based, of slavery itself. It was taken for granted, it was big business but the main mission for that generation that we see in the early church was that of reaching the Gentiles. In doing that the foundations of slavery were being slowly disturbed.
It was a much later generation of the church that tackled the Great British and European and newly emerging American nations on the issue of the slavery on which their wealth was based. The sugar and cotton trades - huge in the industrial age were built on slavery.
The same gospel was preached, The same motives resisted, money was going to be lost, and the same threats used - What do you know? You are disturbing our peaceful empires?"
We know about child labour which was in the rug factories particularly of India and Nepal, but we probably would still buy their wares, the same goes for some cheap products.
We feel helpless to change what is existing and so far from us. New Zealand is not a source country for people trafficking but we are in a small way a destination for a few in the sex trade.
Our laws were tightened up in 2002. but there is a possibility with some groups not speaking English that people are unaware of their rights.
Christian and others groups join together to rescue girls and the children they bear in the brothels, but that is a drop in the bucket. As long as there is demand for the wares or services, those who trade in people make money, and those who make money, often criminal gangs, have power.
The real work of prevention is that women, in particular, and children learn they are not worthless and for men to value their women as people, not chattels. so they are not easily recruited.
It is very hard to take someone who knows that they are precious.
The other prevention is by people like us being aware, not being naïve that these things are happening and not to accept what gives us disquiet.
Freeing the modern day slave girls and boys is still as risky as it was in Paul's day . As is any real work which frees people in the name of Christ. It rocks boats, it gets complaints.
The powers which bind us, and they can be many and varied, strongly resist losing their clout and hide behind what can appear to be the moral high ground. . But the freedom of Christ allows even the jailors to be freed. Its is good news, that gives us new life and may shake the foundations of the old ways.
Beware, for that same Spirit that moves us into action is here mang us today.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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