Forum at the UN in New York: "What Religious Leaders Can Do to End the Exploitation of Women and Children"

New York, USA - With the recent abduction of Nigerian girls by the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, much attention has been placed on the horrendous and escalating practice of human trafficking around the world. Ms. Nelly Niyonzima, Founder and Executive Director of The Connected Hearts and wife of the Permanent Representative of Burundi, H.E. Heremeneglide Niyonzima, is asking an important question: What are religious leaders doing about ending the exploitation of women and children? This question was the focus of the Interfaith Leaders Conference held on June 11 at the UN , entitled, "Why Religious Leaders Matter towards Zero Exploitation of Women and Children, 2030 Agenda."

Amb. Niyonzima opened the session with supportive remarks of his wife's work and the quality of experts gathered on the panel. He then introduced the keynote speaker, Rev. Alfred Charles Sharpton, Jr., founder and president of the National Action Network, civil rights activist and American Baptist minister. Rev. Sharpton spoke with seriousness about the inhumanity of human trafficking innocent girls around the world and the sinister way traffickers have been able to continue and expand their crime against fellow human beings. He said religious leaders are not doing enough to stop this scourge and have been too narrow and unwilling to work with other religions. Rev. Sharpton made a humorous analogy to traffickers as cockroaches who thrive in the dark and scurry once the lights come on. In his analogy he said all religious leaders and people of all faiths must come together to "turn on all the lights" to expose and catch these criminals. With great enthusiasm, the audience applauded his proposal for religious leaders of all faiths to go to Nigeria to put pressure on governments to find these innocent girls and end this violent exploitation.

A panel of religious leaders and UN experts followed, chaired by Mr. Taj Hamad, secretary general of UPF. Major religious groups were represented, including Rabbi Michael Paley of the United Jewish Appeal Federation of NY; Pandit Satish Deo of the Sanatan Cultural Society; Ms. Daisy Khan, Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement; and Rev. Fr. Philip Tah, from the Hartsdale Parish, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

Ms. Simone Monasebian, Director of UN Office of Drugs and Crime, spoke about the impact of human trafficking from a social perspective. Each speaker from their own background or scripture added to the universal sense of responsibility and empathy for the real suffering of fellow human beings. The seats in the room were almost full, but by the end of the discussion the room was overflowing with impassioned determination to combat the violence of human trafficking and bring lost brothers and sisters home.

Taj Hamad concluded the session by saying that religious leaders must stand together around the world to confront the evil of all exploitation of fellow humans and that doing so is our moral and spiritual mandate.

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