A Catholic Monthly Magazine

19th Century Slavery Equals 20th Century Human Trafficking

Br Kevin Dobbyn FMS

Who’d have thought that an obscure saint from Italy, (who was actually Sudanese) would have any connection to Godzone? So many people come to live here so they can raise their children safely, free from abuse in all its forms and from exploitation, yes? Yeah, right!

This ‘obscure’ Sudanese saint, Sr Josephine Bakhita has become an icon of hope for all who have suffered from modern forms of slavery and exploitation. Born in a village in the Darfur region in 1869, she was taken by Arab slave traders when a child. She was bought and sold three times over the next twelve years. Her last employer who had treated her cruelly, sold her. Bakhita (ironically meaning ‘fortunate’) was bought by the Italian vice consul, who was kind to her rather than viciously cruel. When he had to return to Italy he gave ownership of Bakhita to his friends, the Michieli family.

The family went back to Italy, to Venice where Bakhita became nanny to their daughter Mimmina. She was there for two years before Michieli’s wife wanted to return to Sudan to see her husband who had stayed to finish up the family business. In the meantime, Bakhita stayed with the Canossian Sisters in Venice.

Forced to become a Muslim when taken, Bakhita encountered Christianity for the first time and was eventually baptised with the name, Josephine. When the Michielis returned to move elsewhere in Italy, Josephine, who was now free to determine her own destiny, wished to join the Sisters. She did so and lived in Schio as the cook, sacristan and doorkeeper for 42 years. She gained a reputation from her Sisters and the local villagers for down-to-earth holiness marked by gentleness and an ever-present smile.

Sr Josephine Bakhita

Her connection with Godzone? Her very life mirrors the horrors that new migrants have often faced. Religious Sisters together with men religious and lay people have formed a group called ANZRATH – Aotearoa NZ Religious Against the Trafficking of Humans. The group’s primary focus is to raise awareness of and combat human trafficking and exploitation. We collaborate with other organisations, including government, to combat such evil so contrary to the Gospel.

In July The Wellington group hosted a meeting to hear Peter Devoy (Compliance and Border Operations) and Rebecca Miller (People Smuggling & Human Traffficking) both from the Ministry of Immigration. Each listed statistics that are shameful to read and concluded with news of a first conviction in New Zealand for people-trafficking, in which the culprit was given a jail term equivalent to a sentence for manslaughter.

Mr Peter Devoy and
Dr Rebecca Miller

Human trafficking, the modern version of the slavery Bakhita experienced, always involves exploitation that can occur over time. The coersive, deceptive or abusive actions of the trafficker are a crime, which therefore makes any consent of the trafficked person irrelevant. Trafficking can be both across and within borders while smuggling is always cross border and both can involve abuse and exploitation.

What to do? Watch what you buy and its origin. Report exploitation.   

See the following websites:


www.crimestoppers-nz.org/about/contact-us ; https://www.talithakum.info


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