By Chris Arsenault
VATICAN CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain's anti-slavery commissioner received the backing of the Catholic Church on Saturday for a campaign to push for a global pact vowing to eradicate slavery in the next 15 years.
Kevin Hyland, who took up the new role last year, is lobbying world leaders to support a commitment to end forced labor and slavery of all forms in a set of global development goals to be adopted at the United Nations in September.
While slavery is illegal in every country on earth, an estimated 36 million people are trapped in modern slavery. Conditions can range from sex slavery to domestic servitude to being tricked into forced labor through debt bondage.
Hyland, a former senior police officer, said the problem seems to have become worse in the past 15 years as cheap transport, the Internet and globalization allowed criminals to move people more easily for the purposes of exploitation.
He is lobbying to amend the current draft of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will be used to help shape governments' policy and aid spending for the next 15 years, so they contain a commitment to eradicate modern slavery.
"Now is the time to change this: modern slavery has to be on the agenda," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Saturday in an interview following a meeting with Vatican officials.
"We have to be honest: some countries are complicit and others just need help."
Various interest groups are pushing for changes to some of the targets in the 17 goals ahead of the September meeting but Hyland said tweaking the wording to include modern slavery, rather than re-writing whole sections was the best way forward.
The SDGs, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals, are a new, universal set of goals, targets and indicators that U.N. member states will agree and will be expected to use to frame their agendas and political policies until 2030.
Hyland, who is seeking to strengthen and clarify wording in six of the 17 SDGs, said formally adding a target to eradicate slavery in the U.N. framework would allow the world community to name and shame states failing to combat the problem.
It will also put pressure on wealthy countries to spend more aid money on plans to combat and prevent slavery.
The Catholic Church on Saturday gave its backing to the proposed amendments.
"Pope Francis is completely committed to this task (of changing the SDGs)," Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, a bishop and Vatican policy official, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We have been trying to put this subject at the center of the mission of the church."
Hyland recently returned from Nigeria where he met victims of modern slavery who had been rescued and returned home, helped by various agencies to rebuild their lives. He said these people now needed jobs more than anything else to break the cycle of poverty and exploitation.
He said including the abolition of modern slavery as a goal in the SDGs would make it easier for the international community to assist these victims in their struggle to be treated as humans, rather than commodities.
"These minor changes (to the SDGs) will have a major change ... around slavery," Hyland said.
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)