LONDON, Nov 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An army of
religious sisters who rescue victims of human trafficking by
posing as prostitutes to infiltrate brothels and buying
children being sold into slavery, is expanding to 140 countries,
its chairman said on Wednesday.
John Studzinski, an investment banker and philanthropist who
chairs Talitha Kum, said the network of 1,100 sisters currently
operates in about 80 countries but the demand for efforts to
combat trafficking and slavery was rising globally.
The group, set up in 2004, estimates one percent of the
world's population is trafficked in some form, which translates
into some 73 million people. Of those, 70 percent are women and
half are aged 16 or younger.
"I'm not trying to be sensational but I'm trying to
underscore the fact this is a world that has lost innocence ...
where dark forces are active," said Studzinski, a vice chairman
of U.S. investment bank The Blackstone Group.
"These are problems caused by poverty and equality but it
goes well beyond that," he told the Trust Women Conference on
women's rights and trafficking hosted by the Thomson Reuters
Detailing some cases involving trafficking and slavery,
Studzinski said the treatment of some victims was horrific.
He told of one woman enslaved as a prostitute who was locked
up for a week without food, forced to eat own her faeces, when
she failed to have sex with a target of 12 clients a day.
In another extreme case, one woman was forced to have sex
with a group of 10 men at the same time.
Studzinski said the religious sisters working to combat
trafficking would go to all lengths to rescue women, often
dressing up as prostitutes and going out on the street to
integrate themselves into brothels.
"These sisters do not trust anyone. They do not trust
governments, they do not trust corporations, and they don't
trust the local police. In some cases they cannot trust male
clergy," he said, adding that the low-key group preferred to
focus on their rescue work rather than promotion.
"They work in brothels. No one knows they are there."
The sisters were also proactive on trying to save children
being sold into slavery by their parents, setting up a network
of homes in Africa as well as in the Philippines, Brazil and
India to shelter such children.
He said the religious sisters of Talitha Kum raised money to
purchase these children.
"This is a new network of houses for children around the
world who would otherwise be sold into slavery. It is shocking
but it is real," he said.
Studzinski said the network of religious sisters, that was
in the process of expanding, also targeted slavery in the supply
chain with sisters shedding their habits and working alongside
locals for as little as 2 U.S. cents an hour to uncover abuses.
He said Talitha Kum, which translated from Aramaic means
arise child, was now being hired by companies to see what is
going on with respect to the supply chain and expanding globally
would help address this issue.
"You can't generalize about trafficking and slavery as no
two countries are the same," Studzinski said.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith;
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