By María Lourdes Rivas*
Slavery still exists.
Human trafficking currently takes third place for the most severe issues affecting Central America after narcotrafficking and the smuggling of weapons. Nicaragua is first on the list of “source countries” for human trafficking, and evidence shows that Guatemala is the highest “consumer” in the region.
Women, children, and adolescents of both sexes are the principal target of traffickers’ networks who seek the sale of organs and the trafficking of persons for sexual or labor exploitation.
According to the National Coalition for Human Trafficking, the furthest borders of Nicaragua (to the north and to the south), are the territories where the majority of traffickers operate. Chinandega, León, Madriz, Nueva Segovia, Rivas, and Rio San Juan are the departments with the highest number of cases of trafficking victims.
The threat is so real and so close that it is affecting the evangelical church. In a survey done by the Nehemiah Center (2011) with two groups of pastors and leaders from León and Chinandega, 74% of those interviewed claimed that this is a problem that has been affecting their congregations for some time now. 80% of those surveyed were in agreement that the church should act in response to this reality.
The pilot project Combating Human Trafficking in Nicaragua, directed by the Nehemiah Center, has been researching this topic during the past year and has been training 12 churches in León and Chinandega in themes such as Legislation on Human Trafficking, Victim Counseling, and Action Plans for preventing trafficking in communities.
Through these trainings, the churches have been able to verify that the buying and selling of persons is a real threat in their neighborhoods. Before, many leaders though that the cases of minors disappearing were an issue resulting from rebellious adolescents that had run away from home. With the information they now have, they have been able to effectively recognize these cases as human trafficking.
At the beginning of this year, thanks be to God, we were able to rescue a girl from Chinandega. Following the procedures they had learned, through prayer, and by working as a team, we were able to learn the whereabouts of the girl just before she was about to be transported by traffickers to El Salvador. The young girl is now receiving spiritual and psychological support.
The Nehemiah Center is concluding the pilot project in the next month. We are very satisfied with what we have accomplished, but we hope to continue with this effort. We are praying for the human and financial resources to continue with this work of prevention and attention to victims. It is risky work, but it is also a duty: as Christians we are called to live an abundant life in Christ, but we are also called to announce and defend the plentitude of life in the context of slavery and death.
*Project Facilitator, Combating Human Trafficking in Nicaragua.