POPE condemns exploitation of women, children at Bangkok.

Pope Francis condemned on Thursday the exploitation of women and children for prostitution in Thailand, which is notorious for sex tourism. saying the violence, abuse and enslavement they suffer are evils that must be uprooted.

Pope Francis, on the first full day of his visit to mainly Buddhist Thailand, led a Mass in Bangkok's National Stadium for tens of thousands of exuberant Roman Catholics in a country where they make up less that one percent of the population.

''For us, it is as if God himself is here,'' said Nutaporn Kwanmuang, 27, who attended the Mass, the largest gathering of Catholics since Pope Jon Paul II visited in 1984. Tens of thousands others watched on screen in an adjacent stadium.

In his homily, Pope Francis mentioned the exploitation of women and children and 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 and the end of a long day.

Thailand, which attracts some 35 million tourists a year, has sought to shed its reputation for sex tourism. But repeated crackdowns have not rid Bangkok and other tourist hubs of go-go bars and massage parlours that offer sex. There are around 123,530 sex workers in Thailand, according to a 2014 UNAIDS report.

In a gesture of inter-religious dialogue, Pope Francis on Thursday morning visited the gilded War 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 thrived and relations with the Buddhists are generally good. Pope Francis then left for Japan last Saturday. [Reuters]


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