Pope Francis has spoken out against human traffickers, warning them that they will be held accountable for their crimes. He also pleaded on behalf of the tens of thousands of children around the world forced to work in degrading conditions on the eve of World Day Against Child Labor on Thursday.
"One day everything comes to an end and they will be held accountable to God," the pope said about those responsible for human trafficking, slave labor and arms manufacturing during a general audience at the Vatican on Wednesdays, also calling them "merchants of death."
The Roman Catholic Church leader pleaded for the "tens of thousands of children who are forced to work in degrading conditions, exposed to forms of slavery and exploitation, as well as abuse, mistreatment and discrimination." He also called on the international community to "extend social protection for minors in order to weaken this scourge."
He continued: "Let us renew our commitment, in particular in families, to guarantee to every boy and girl the protection for his or her dignity and the possibility of healthy growth. A serene childhood enables us to look trustfully upon life and to the future."
The International Labor Organization says that the day is needed to stress the need for decent work for adults and compulsory and quality education for all children.
"We are moving in the right direction but progress is still too slow. If we are serious about ending the scourge of child labor in the foreseeable future, we need a substantial stepping-up of efforts at all levels." Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General has said.
According to ILO global estimates, the number of children in hazardous work stands at 85 million, down from 171 million in 2000.
It offers that poverty and shocking situations, such as loss of family income or a health-related issue, often play a key role in driving children to work. Situations which dramatically reduce household incomes are often what cause children to drop out of school and enter the work field to try and contribute to the family income, which can be dangerous for their safety.
The organization estimates that despite the progress, the goal to eliminate the worst forms of child labor by 2016 will not be met.
The Catholic Church has had to deal with its own large-scale cases of child abuse, and in May it was revealed during a U.N. Committee hearing that it had defrocked 848 priests who raped or molested children and sanctioned another 2,572 others since 2004. The Church also paid $2.5 billion in compensation to victims in the U.S. alone.
Francis has pledged numerous times that the Vatican will improve its record and help in the global battle against child abuse.
Joining efforts with the ILO campaign, on Wednesday the Vatican helped distribute leaflets with the #RedCard campaign, encouraging people to give "red cards" to those exploiting children, much like soccer referees giving red cards and sending off players who behave violently.
Francis further called on everyone, especially families, to help safeguard "the dignity and possibility of a healthy upbringing" of all children so they could look to the future with hope.