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Pope urges action to help women and children ‘humiliated’ by traffickers

Francis was speaking as he held Mass in front of thousands of people in Bangkok, Thailand.

Pope Francis waves upon his arrival at the national stadium in Bangkok to lead Mass (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)
Pope Francis waves upon his arrival at the national stadium in Bangkok to lead Mass (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press

Pope Francis called for more efforts to combat the “humiliation” of women and children forced into prostitution as he began a visit to Thailand, where human trafficking and poverty help fuel the sex tourism industry.

During an open-air Mass at Bangkok’s national sports stadium, Francis denounced the scourges afflicting the poorest of the region.

He urged Thais not to ignore the women and children trafficked for sex or migrants enslaved as fishermen and beggars.

He told an estimated 60,000 people in the stadium for the evening service: “All of them are part of our family. They are our mothers, our brothers and sisters.”

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Pope Francis celebrates Mass in front of thousands at the national stadium in Bangkok (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

The UN drug and crime agency said in a report this year that trafficking for sexual exploitation accounted for 79% of all trafficking cases in Thailand from 2014 to 2017. Of the 1,248 victims detected, 70% were under-age girls, the report said, citing data from Thai authorities.

The UN says sex tourism is a factor fuelling the trafficking of more victims, who are sometimes forced, coerced or deceived into sexual exploitation.

Francis’s homily was the second time in a day that he referred to the plight of women and children forced into the sex trade.

In his first speech earlier on Thursday, delivered at Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s Government House offices, Francis praised the Thai government’s efforts to fight human trafficking.

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The Catholic faithful – young and old – attended the evening Mass (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

But he appealed for greater international commitment to protect women and children “who are violated and exposed to every form of exploitation, enslavement, violence and abuse”.

He called for ways to “uproot this evil and to provide ways to restore their dignity”.

He added: “The future of our peoples is linked in large measure to the way we will ensure a dignified future to our children.”

The US State Department has faulted Thailand for failing to fully crack down on traffickers who induce young Thai girls into pornography, as well as the exploitation, including via debt bondage, of migrant workers in commercial fishing enterprises.

The Thai government has insisted it has made significant progress and has vowed continued co-operation with international bodies.

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Francis said victims of trafficking are ‘part of our family’ as he urged worshippers to show compassion (Manish Swarup/AP)

Mr Prayuth did not make any reference to the problem in his remarks to Francis, though he stressed Thailand has made great strides in promoting human rights.

“We have sought to strengthen the family institution and ensure equal opportunities for all groups in society, especially women and children,” he told Francis after a brief private meeting.

Francis has made the fight against human trafficking one of the cornerstones of his papacy, calling it a crime against humanity.

In his evening homily, Francis told the faithful that as missionaries, they cannot ignore the plight of those considered “unclean”.

He said: “Here I think of children and women who are victims of prostitution and human trafficking, humiliated in their essential human dignity.

“I think of young people enslaved by drug addiction… I think also of exploited fishermen and bypassed beggars.”

PA

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