Ending the Trafficking and Exploitation of Women and Girls

In conjunction with the 61st Commission on the Status of Women, the Group of Friends of the Family and the Group of Friends United Against Human Trafficking, together with civil society, is hosting a high-level event on the theme of protecting and empowering women and girls and the irreplaceable role of the family in helping girls reach their full potential.

Father Shenan Boquet, President Human Life International, presented a statement on the importance of faith, family and religious freedom in creating a society that respects and defends the dignity of every person. The following is his full statement:

Event Background

The event will highlight successful international and national programs that combat trafficking, rescue victims and assist them in the recovery process.

In order to combat trafficking effectively it is necessary to prevent women and children from becoming the targets of traffickers.

The event will highlight policies to protect and strengthen the family as a keystone for human trafficking prevention strategy. Sadly, it is women and children made vulnerable because of their precarious family situation who are the prime targets of traffickers, whether it be war, terrorism, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, divorce and family breakdown, physical violence or other causes.


Key Points

  • Religious practice has an enormous influence upon culture and the common good. It is an essential element of culture that helps determine the moral values in a given society.
  • Restoring the centrality of religion and its indispensable relation to culture is the remedy to the attacks on the dignity of women and all human life.

Religious Freedom

Without the acknowledgement of his spiritual being, without openness to the transcendent, the human person withdraws within himself, fails to find answers to the heart’s deepest questions about life’s meaning, fails to appropriate lasting ethical values and principles, and fails even to experience authentic freedom and to build a just society. – Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 78

  • Culture defines the social forces within a given society involving its conventions for moral behavior. The freedom to authentically live one’s faith expresses what is unique about the human person and gives direction to our personal and social life. This freedom is rooted in the very dignity of the human person, whose transcendent nature must not be ignored or overlooked. To arbitrarily restrict or deny this truth encourages a reductive vision of the human person – a vision that reduces man and woman to a commodity.
  • The moral and ethical values fostered by religious practice helps shape and create a society that takes account of the true dignity of the human person. This society respects, defends, loves and serves life and considers all acts opposing this view as unacceptable.
  • Religion positively contributes to culture and the common good when, in freedom, it is welcomed in the public realm, specifically in regard to its cultural, social, economic, and political dimensions. Denying the right to profess one’s religion in public and the right to bring the truths of faith to bear upon public life has negative consequences for true development of culture and society. The exclusion of religion from the public square hinders an encounter between persons and their collaboration for the progress of humanity.

Dehumanization and the Role of the Family in Building Respect for Every Person

As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.
– Pope Saint John Paul II, Homily given in Perth, Australia in November 1986

  • What faith can provide is a fixed point beyond politics, beyond ideology, beyond the social fashion of the day, which can serve as the basis of an unchangeable belief in the fundamental and equal dignity of every human person. Human rights risk being ignored either because they are robbed of their transcendent foundation or because personal freedom is not acknowledged.
  • The family is a community of life and love, which educates and leads its members to their full maturity. It is within the family where we first learn how to love, to forgive, and to be generous and selfless. Within the family, children learn how to distinguish right from wrong, as well as how to choose good over evil.
  • From our parents, our primary educators, we learn to move beyond our needs and encounter others – to serve the good of each person and always be generous in the service of our neighbor. Within this divinely instituted cell of society – the family – moral values are witnessed, as well as the fundamental values toward the dignity of every human life.
  • The violence against the dignity of women and girls we experience in human trafficking is part of a larger global attack on basic human values such as: the respect for the inviolable dignity of each human person, respect for the rights of conscience and religious freedom, and respect for the inalienable right to life.
  • For this reason, we must protect the natural family and assist it in its efforts to transmit to children the values and vision which can help bring about a cultural transformation – one which honors and respects the sacredness and dignity of every life and rejects all acts of violence against this inherent dignity.
  • Interestingly, I can recall from my upbringing the profound teaching about respect toward others, especially toward women. Moreover, my father and grandfathers taught by word and example how we as young men were to treat women. These values, grounded in the teachings of my faith about the moral truth about the inherent dignity of each person, were non-negotiable. Any rejection or denial of these truths was quickly corrected.

Restoration of Public Morality

In fact, the numbing of consciences is a great threat for man. Indirectly, they are also a great threat for society, because in the last analysis the level of morality of society depends on the human conscience. – Saint John Paul II, Angelus, March 15, 1981

  • Of course people without a religious affiliation can live good lives and make moral decisions. But to communicate why these values are universal you need a basis to do so, one beyond our opinions and social fashions. This is historically where religion gave its greatest service to flourishing societies – providing a shared basis for moral reasoning and traditions.
  • Over time, we have seen that a radical secular culture and its vision of the human person trivializes life, making it mundane, no longer compelling, and no longer inspiring. When the order and way of life becomes “merely subjective,” there is nothing to unite people as one, sharing in the same vision and purpose.
  • Culture is influenced and can be altered when its leaders are guided by timeless moral truths – the foundation of a healthy and vibrant society that uses its freedom well. If there is no moral force guiding each individual and there is no readiness to defend these objective values, a better world cannot be built or cultivated. Instead, the world will continue to deteriorate into greater acts of selfishness, ­ a selfishness that dominates and destroys as we see in human trafficking.
  • If we want to prevent further violence against women and girls, then there is a definitive need to reclaim a basic understanding of the human person, both man and woman. un-speech2


  • The responsibility we all have to work for the common good requires that we reclaim our moral and spiritual foundations so that we can build a society together. Religious freedom is necessary for cultural transformation regarding the inherent dignity of human life. Religious education and formation leads current and future generations to see others as their brothers and sisters, with whom they are called to work together ­– members of one human family, from which no one is to be excluded or mistreated.
  • Within the family, founded on the stability and exclusivity of marriage, we find the first school for the social, cultural, moral and spiritual formation and growth of children. Upon this foundation and witness, children are able to experience in their father and mother the first witnesses of a life directed to the pursuit of truth, love of God and neighbor.
  • The family, the first cell of human society, remains the primary training ground for fostering a vision of the human person and his or her coexistence, as well as the obligations and duties we have towards each other.
  • Parents must be always free to transmit to their children, responsibly and without constraints, the rich heritage of their faith, values and culture.
  • Wisdom would suggest that this is the pathway to building and cultivating a strong and fraternal social fabric, in which young people and future generations can be prepared to assume their proper responsibilities in life.
  • The violence of human trafficking, one component of a larger more sinister threat to human life, can be stopped when the exercise of religious freedom and the protection of the rights of parents fosters those fundamental values and moral truths that recognize and defend the inherent value of every human life.

Gaudium et Spes, ¶ 27 – Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, December 7, 1965

In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of actively helping him when he comes across our path… Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself… whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society….


About Fr. Shenan J. Boquet

Fr. Shenan J. Boquet has served as president of Human Life International since 2011. He was ordained in 1993 as a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana. As HLI’s president, Fr. Boquet collaborates with fellow laborers in the pro-life and family movement in over 80 countries, offering the Sacraments, giving seminars and trainings, appearing on numerous media outlets, and encouraging people of all walks of life to live as faithful advocates for a Culture of Life and Love. He is available for interviews and bookings on behalf of HLI by emailing hli@hli.org.

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