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Vanaja Jasphine Honored For Her Fight Against Human Trafficking


The latest U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report names a new country among the world's worst offenders on human trafficking - China. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson criticized China for not taking, quote, "serious steps to end its own complicity in trafficking," including forced laborers from North Korea that are located in China. China now joins Russia, Iran, North Korea and Syria on the bottom of that list. Secretary Tillerson also honored activists from around the world for their efforts to end human trafficking.

Sister Vanaja Jasphine was one of those aid activists to be named a 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report Hero. Sister Jasphine is the coordinator of the Kumbo Diocesan Commission for Justice and Peace in the northwest region of Cameroon, and she joins us now. Sister, thank you so much for being with us.


SIMON: How big a problem is human trafficking in Cameroon?

JASPHINE: This country, Cameroon, acts as a source, transit and destination. Especially the Kumbo Diocese, as it is economically poor region. It's a source for many traffickers to have children from our region to take them to the cities, to the towns and to the other nations, especially to the Middle East, where they're exploited sexually, physically and mentally.

SIMON: So they're taken from homes. They're taken from schools. What happens?

JASPHINE: Mostly, they're taken from homes or from where they are working. If they are working in somebody's house, they lobby the girl, say that OK, there is a job opportunity in Middle East as a teacher or as a nurse. Then when they go, they go to a center called a kadama (ph). In Arab, it is called a slave. So they go there. They are bought and sold to various places to be exploited.

SIMON: What do you do, Sister? What can your organization do?

JASPHINE: So what we do is that when the cases come to my office, we first investigate. Once we know the perpetrator, we try to call or invite the person. If the person refuses, we collaborate with the legal department, issue the warrant of arrest. There, we come to the table of negotiation. If he's ready to negotiate, we try to negotiate and try to resettle the victim. If not, we take the case to the court.

SIMON: Well, how long can the process take?

JASPHINE: It can go three years, four years. It is indefinite.

SIMON: Sister, you were honored at the White House earlier this week. What role can the United States play in trying to combat human trafficking?

JASPHINE: As we heard that our children are trafficked to Middle East, we had a public demonstration. And it became a national issue. We contacted the government, especially the prime minister, the secretary general for security and the police commissioner. So in that process, we had the chance to meet the U.S. embassy. They supported us. They took our report. And they called the government to implement the law effectively to intensify the existing structures. Recently, it was not working, but now with the collaboration of U.S. embassy and our organization, we have really intensified the effort of task force.

SIMON: Sister Vanaja, you're doing such important work. I wonder what brought you to that work?

JASPHINE: What I say is that for the first time, the human trafficking, I never thought it was existing. But when the case came to me, I said, it is a gross human rights violation. It is the breach of one's fundamental rights. And the hopelessness of the children made me to become more active, more committed. And I dedicated myself for that to restore their dignity.

SIMON: Sister Vanaja Jasphine. She was just named a 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report Hero. Thank you so much for being with us.

JASPHINE: You are welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.