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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Human trafficking is a crime against humanity that should be recognized as such and punished by international or regional courts, a Vatican study group said on Monday.
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 labor, according to a global slavery index issued last month by the Walk Free Foundation charity.
"International or regional courts ... should be created because human trafficking in an international phenomenon that cannot be properly prosecuted and punished at the national level," said a statement listing 50 recommendations made at a two-day seminar held at the initiative of Pope Francis on how to combat human trafficking and slavery.
The Vatican statement gave no details of the proposal made by the more than 100 experts who attended the seminar.
"The idea is that it should be something along the lines of European courts that go beyond borders," Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, said afterwards in a telephone interview.
The group, which will give its recommendations to Pope Francis as well as to organizations fighting human trafficking, also said it should be defined as a crime against humanity in national and international legislation.
Sanchez Sorondo said the pope had asked his department and the Vatican's Academy of Social Sciences to hold the seminar because he was so concerned about human trafficking.
Sanchez Sorondo said in a preparatory document for the seminar, which he did not attend, that some experts believe human trafficking could overtake drugs and weapons trafficking to become the world's most lucrative criminal activity.
Francis has made defending the poor and vulnerable a cornerstone of his papacy. He has made numerous appeals for the protection of refugees.
His first trip after his election was to Lampedusa, an island half-way between Sicily and Tunisia where many victims of human trafficking end up, to pay tribute to those who had died at sea.
More than 360 mainly Eritrean migrants died drowned in early October when their boat capsized off Lampedusa.
Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alistair Lyon