International Women's Day - 8th March 2023
On this day dedicated to women, Talitha Kum acknowledges the contributions of women around the world who are committed to creating a journey with dignity for all, dreaming and building a world free of human trafficking and all kinds of exploitation. Consecrated and lay women, survivors of trafficking, women of other religious faiths and spiritualities, a like, walking in the wake of caring, healing, empowering and restoring human dignity. On this occasion, Talitha Kum would also like to highlight that even today, in many parts of the world, many women suffer, especially the young girls. They are in vulnerable and fragile conditions, making them the first victims of human trafficking.
One of the many different forms of exploitation is forced marriage. “Responses to forced marriage should necessarily be highly contextualized and geographically specific. Fundamental to the drivers of forced marriage are patriarchal norms and social structures that drive control over girls’ sexuality. These include perceptions that a girl’s sexuality and sexual activity reflects negatively on her and her family and therefore her parents are responsible for protecting her; it follows that the girl should comply with their directives on whom to marry. " (Force labor and Forced marriage 2022).
Through the testimonies of sisters committed against trafficking in different contexts, Talitha Kum wishes to give a voice to the victims of forced marriages. The following are just some of the stories and experiences about the care for the victims by religious sisters and women collaborators of the networks at the grassroots:
Sister Marie Jean, rgs coordinator of Talitha Kum South Korea shared a story about a 35 year old Vietnamese woman who was a victim of forced marriage. Born and raised in a poor environment in Vietnam, the woman was under constant pressure from her abusive father to get married. By marrying a man who lived in a more affluent country, she would be able to help her poor family.
The woman believes that her marriage was semi-forced as it was not her will but that of her parents, causing her not to contact her family after marriage. She is now living her married life diligently. This is the case for many women, who now live a dutiful married life which was brought about through violence and coercion of her family.
The Holy Family Shelter, one of the facilities under Talitha Kum Korea Network, is an organization that helps North Korean refugee women. Many women that have received help from this organization, have shared that they have experienced human trafficking, mainly in the form of forced marriage. They had been sold by their families, in North Korea, and then trafficked in China when the women defected there.
Many individuals escaping North Korea have experienced human trafficking before reaching their final destination, with many women being sold and forced into marriages. If they are lucky, they may meet a nice person and are able to get out of North Korea, however, the reality is that most of the women will continue to live a life of exploitation.
Sr. Angela Nemilaki, msola of the network Religious Against Human Trafficking (RAHT) in Kenya, was able to give a voice to some of the female victims of forced marriage. She shared a story about:
Arianna, a 22 year old woman, who had lost both of her parents at the age of 5 and since was living with her paternal uncle. When she was 16, her uncle told her that he had received a dowry and that she would be taken to her future husband the next day. The future husband was 60 years old and had other wives. Arianna was forced to marry and sleep with her husband the same day, as ritual demanded. This was the most painful experience she had ever had. She conceived a baby girl, which was not welcome. She had to run away with her daughter to a nearby town, where the sisters of the network met her.
Sr. Angela also shared a story about a 12 year old girl, Lulu, whose father had arranged her marriage to a man from their village. Her mother was aware of this decision, however, was not considered upon making it. Knowing that she cannot change the decision, she sent her daughter to a relative in town, under the pretext of finishing her school. This did not work. Lulu was turned into a house girl, working without pay at times. The mother was distressed by this situation, with her only choice being bringing her daughter back to the village, where then her father would marry her off. It was at this point the sisters met the mother. The Talitha Kum team, in communication with her, was able to enroll Lulu into college to learn tailoring. Lulu will complete her course this year.
Sr. Colleen Jackson, rsc the coordinator of ACRATH, the network against human trafficking in Australia, shared the story of Liya and the important of the ACRATH's Companionship Program on the process to healing women who are survivors of forced marriage:
Liya, 18, was deceived by her parents into going on a "3-week vacation" to her aunt in her parents' home country in East Africa. Upon arrival, she found herself a prisoner for six months in a city apartment building. She had to perform all domestic duties, often treated violently, could not leave the apartment without a male escort, and was not allowed to contact her family in Australia. She was to marry a 50-year-old man that she did not know. Fortunately, through a neighbor, she was able to contact via e-mail a schoolmate in Australia, involving the school, federal police and the Australian Embassy, to bring Liya back to Australia.
“Liya became part of the Australian STPP (Support for Trafficked People Program) and Red Cross referred her to ACRATH for ongoing emotional and social support. Partnered with a trained ACRATH volunteer Companion, Liya began her long and challenging journey of recovery. For the last several years the ACRATH companion has been able to walk alongside this young woman who faced and escaped from a forced marriage. The ACRATH companion has been instrumental in achieving essential long-term supportive accommodation and casework for the young woman.” (here the full story).
“Across the globe, levels of child marriage are highest in West and Central Africa, where nearly 4 in 10 young women were married before age 18. Lower levels of child marriage are found in Eastern and Southern Africa (32 per cent), South Asia (28 per cent), and Latin America and Caribbean (21 per cent). The prevalence of child marriage is decreasing globally, with the most progress in the past decade seen in South Asia, where a girl’s risk of marrying in childhood has dropped by more than a third, from nearly 50 per cent to below 30 per cent. Still, the total number of girls married in childhood stands at 12 million per year, and progress must be significantly accelerated in order to end the practice by 2030 – the target set out in the Sustainable Development Goals. Without further acceleration, more than 100 million additional girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030.” (UNICEF data).
March 8, 2023