VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis said "enough" to human trafficking on Thursday, denouncing it as a crime against humanity as police leaders and religious groups from around the world pledged to work together to combat it.
Francis addressed the final session of a two-day Vatican-sponsored international conference on human trafficking attended by top law enforcement officials, politicians and representatives of religions.
"Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity," he said. Departing from his prepared text, he said there were many "people of good will who want to shout 'enough'" to human trafficking.
Participants included British interior minister Theresa May, Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble, London Metropolitan Police chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and anti-trafficking activists from around the world, many of them nuns.
According to a report last October by the Walk Free Foundation charity, nearly 30 million people live in slavery across the globe, many of them men, women and children trafficked by gangs for sex work and unskilled labour.
Hogan-Howe told reporters that the commitment between Church groups who work with victims of trafficking and police forces to cooperate is vital. "This is a pretty powerful network. We have the heads of the various police forces (and) many people who are leaders. They are committed," he said.
He said it was important for leaders like the pope to make appeals against human trafficking and brand it a crime against humanity because such denunciations can bring concrete results.
"Apart from its mere statement, it encourages governments to pass laws. By making such a declaration it encourages governments to take this to a very high priority."
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said: "We learned that just one percent of people caught in human slavery are being rescued. The comment was made that slavery has never been as widespread in the world as it is today."
The Argentine pope has made defending the poor and vulnerable a cornerstone of his papacy, issuing numerous appeals for the protection of refugees.
Francis discussed human trafficking with U.S. President Barack Obama when he visited the Vatican last month and it was the pope's idea for the Vatican to host the international conference, now in its second year.
The pope's first trip after his election was to Lampedusa, an island halfway between Sicily and Tunisia where many victims of human trafficking end up. Francis paid tribute there to trafficking victims who had died at sea.