Pope Francis has pleaded for action to protect women and children from exploitation, abuse and enslavement.
Pope Francis has pleaded for action to protect women and children from exploitation, abuse and enslavement.

Pope makes call to protect women and children

Pope Francis has called for women and children to be protected from exploitation, abuse and enslavement as he began a busy two days of meetings in Thailand, where human trafficking and forced prostitution help fuel the sexual tourism industry.

Francis on Thursday pleaded for action against one of the region's greatest scourges at the start of his weeklong visit to Asia.

He praised the Thai government's efforts to fight human trafficking in a speech delivered at host Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's Government House offices.

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".

"The future of our peoples is linked in large measure to the way we will ensure a dignified future to our children," he said.

The United Nations considers Thailand a key trafficking destination as well as a source of forced labour and sex slaves, who are trafficked at home or abroad.

The UN drug and crime agency said in a report this summer that trafficking for sexual exploitation accounted for 79 per cent of all trafficking cases in Thailand from 2014-2017.

Of the 1248 victims detected, 70 per cent were underage girls, a 2019 report said, citing data from Thai authorities.

The UN cited sex tourism as a factor in fuelling the trafficking of more victims, who were forced, coerced or deceived into sexual exploitation.

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 in cracking down on human trafficking and has vowed continued cooperation with international bodies to improve.

Prime Minister Chan-ocha didn't make any reference to the problem in his remarks to Francis, though he stressed that Thailand had 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.