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Faith-targeted human trafficking highlights need for better foreign aid policy

In some parts of the world, minorities are at greater risk of exploitation. This is nothing new. From Uighurs in China to indigenous communities in the Amazon, ethnic and religious minorities have often found themselves targeted because they are different.

What is new, however, is the deliberate targeting of faith groups for bride trafficking. Six weeks ago, Arise received a report that adverts had appeared in parts of Pakistan like the one below.

Roughly translated the sign says:

“Long live the Pakistan China friendship. Christian men please listen: offers of marriage from deserving poor and good families are required immediately for China. All expenses will be borne by the China family. There is no need for education. Please contact on the given number.”

Shortly after interviews emerged in the South China Morning Post of the ordeals these Pakistani Christian girls had suffered after having been sold by their own families. It is estimated that since late 2018 at least 1000 girls have been sold in this way. The AP reports that predators are even cruising outside churches in an attempt to manipulate poor families into giving up their girls.

It is difficult to empathise with these cases. Few reading this will ever experience the desperation that leads a family to consider selling their child. Still fewer would have any understanding of the horror of the total abandonment experienced by that child. Or the paralysing terror of routine sexual exploitation.

After learning about this, two of Arise’s board members - Lord Alton and Lord Hogan-Howe - asked questions in the UK Parliament to see what international help might be offered. The UK gives around £350,000 a day in aid to Pakistan and has a well developed anti-human trafficking programme there.

Unfortunately, the Government response revealed that no foreign aid is targeted at groups who are at-risk because of their faith.

This highlights the inadequacy and inappropriateness of an old orthodoxy in international development thinking. It has always been assumed that providing aid according to need, and need alone would be sufficient. This is not irrational; there are risks associated with singling out certain groups for support, not least creating perceptions of Western preferment.

But sometimes driving a wedge between ‘need’ and ‘creed’ just doesn’t make sense. As the suffering of the Yazidis under Daesh and the atrocities inflicted upon the Rohingya showed very clearly, religious belief can be the key indicator of vulnerability. In both these cases, as with the Christian girls in Pakistan, it was their creed which defined the need.

This matters because prevention work is most effective when it addresses why people are at-risk. If our aid programmes remain blind to the fact that the faith of these girls is putting them at risk, how can they possibly be effective?

As Lord Alton said, in a follow up question which has yet to be answered:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to help Christian women whose religion is the very cause for their enslavement when “they do not target specific sub groups e.g. Christian women”.

The time is long overdue for the human rights community to look at this issue again and craft a more humane policy that allows help to be offered to those persecuted and trafficked for their religious beliefs.

Banner photo credit: AP

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