Vatican summit of judges pledges aid to fight human trafficking

Judges and prosecutors from around the world are pledging to crack down on human trafficking and help victims of modern-day slavery in the latest Vatican initiative to draw attention to the problem and rally resources to fight it.

Pope Francis is expected to sign a declaration Friday along with participants of a Vatican summit of about 100 judges, prosecutors and other public officials involved in fighting human trafficking and organized crime.

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According to the draft declaration obtained by The Associated Press, participants call human trafficking, forced labor and prostitution a "crime against humanity" that should be prosecuted as such.

The 10-point declaration pledges increased funding for international cooperation to boost prosecutions of traffickers and consumers of the sex trade, and pledges better support for victims, including issuing temporary residence permits. The draft, which may still be amended, says repatriation should never be the default judgment against victims.

Francis, history's first Latin American pontiff, has made the fight against human trafficking a priority of his pontificate as part of his emphasis on looking out for society's most marginalized, including refugees and the poor.

In 2014, he and 25 religious leaders signed a declaration pledging to eradicate modern-day slavery by 2020. A year later, he invited mayors from around the world to a summit where they pledged to work to end trafficking and the involuntary repatriation of victims. The 2016 edition focused on judges and prosecutors, with guests including the supreme court judges of Mexico and Argentina, Britain's commissioner against modern slavery, and the U.S. ambassador responsible for trafficking.

Alison Saunders, the British director of public prosecutions, told Friday's conference that there has been a shift in the profile of victims of trafficking in the past two years, with more adult men, rather than women, being victims of forced labor in Britain. Previously, women forced into prostitution tended to account for most victims, she said.

"It's important that prosecutors understand the changing trend," and are able to recognize what a trafficking victim looks like, she told the conference.

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