Pope Francis condemned on Thursday the exploitation of women and children for prostitution. Thailand is notorious for its sex tourism. An image in which Thailand is desperately trying to shed.
The Pope said the violence, abuse and enslavement they suffer are evils that must be uprooted.
Pope Francis, on the first full day visit led a Mass in Bangkok’s National Stadium for tens of thousands Roman Catholics. In Thailand Catholics make up less than one percent of the population.
“For us, it is as if God himself is here,” said Nutaporn Kwanmuang, 27, who attended the Mass. The mass was the largest gathering of Catholics since Pope John Paul II visited in 1984.
Tens of thousands of others also watched on screens in an adjacent stadium.
In his homily, Francis mentioned the exploitation of women and children. Also the plight of refugees and migrants for the second time in one day.
“Here I think of children and women who are victims of prostitution and human trafficking, humiliated in their essential human dignity,” said the 82-year-old pope, who looked tired at the end of a long day.
Thailand, which attracts some 35 million tourists a year and has sought to shed its reputation for sex tourism. However repeated crackdowns have not rid tourist hubs of Beer bars and massage parlors.
There are around 123,530 sex workers in Thailand, according to a 2014 UNAIDS report.
Thailand Trying to Shed Sex Reputation
Earlier, in his first address on Thursday, Francis expressed appreciation for the Thai government’s efforts “to extirpate this scourge. And for all those private individuals and organizations working to uproot the evil and to provide ways to restore their (victims’) dignity”.
At both venues, he defended migrants and refugees and also condemned human trafficking.
The number of human trafficking victims rescued in Thailand is set to hit a record high this year. Demand for cheap labor in neighboring Malaysia has caused a jump in the illegal trade, according to government data.
In a gesture of inter-religious dialogue, Francis on Thursday morning visited the gilded Wat Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram Temple to pay his respects to Thailand’s Supreme Buddhist Patriarch, the 91-year-old Somdet Phra Maha Muniwong.
Thailand’s Catholics number around 380,000 in a country of more than 65 million, but the small community has also thrived and relations with the Buddhists are generally good.