It is often difficult to see the effects of environmental degradation in the United States, as we turn on our faucets and water readily flows out. There is never a shortage of food at our grocery stores and selling our children to survive would be unheard of. Except, it’s happening across the globe. Mothers and fathers forced to sell their young daughters to feed their families due to a drought.

As the former director of an environmental non-profit, when I took the position of coordinator for the Diocese of Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force, I felt I was trading one passion for another – from protecting our environment to standing up for human rights.

What I discovered was, in fact, that the two go hand in hand in more ways than we may think, and both belong to our Catholic Social Teaching of “Care for Creation” and “Life and Dignity of the Human Person.”

When we don’t care for our environment, bring about climate change, and deplete our fisheries, etc., it has a direct impact on the livelihoods of people and, in turn, is another contributor to human trafficking.

Last month, we looked at slavery in the seafood industry and how people are tricked, forced or kidnapped and serve years on ships that supply our seafood. Once at sea, workers endure inhumane working hours and are compelled to labor under life-threatening conditions, including extreme and reckless exposure to danger and the elements, while being kept on the verge of starvation.

Depleting fisheries have led these ships to have to travel further out to sea and are gone longer as they search for prized catches, leading to men aboard these ships at sea longer than ever before.

Climate change is also leading to droughts and has been causing families to sell their children. According to the United Nations, more than 275,000 people have been displaced by drought – more than war conflicts in the same drought-stricken region. In Afghanistan, families are being forced from their homes due to severe droughts and into camps because they no longer can grow crops to sustain themselves. As a result, parents are having to sell their children in order to eat! See the video here: https://youtu.be/8gBKaBzR8U0

According to Catholic Relief Services, in places like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, thousands of families struggle with chronic poverty, a lack of job opportunities and recently failed harvests due to environmental degradations and climate change. That, coupled with gang violence and drug cartels, are causing thousands of families to flee north and to our borders for fear of their lives and those of their children. Along the way, children and those who are most vulnerable, have fallen victim to human trafficking.

But it doesn’t end there, as hundreds of children separated from their parents have been placed into foster homes, not to loving families, but traffickers themselves.

As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22 and throughout the month, let us ask ourselves if buying sustainable seafood, recycling and conserving our precious resources does more than save our environment and the wildlife it harbors. Could it also help save the homes and livelihoods of our brothers and sisters?

By Christine Commerce, Human Trafficking Task Force Coordinator – April 2019