- Catholic bishops warn of "organized mafias" that run trafficking networks
- They pledge to do more to fight human trafficking in South America
- Child sex trafficking rings are also operating in the area, the bishops say
Dozens of Roman Catholic bishops in South America say human trafficking has seen "alarming growth" in the region.
The 60 bishops from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay issued a statement after a meeting in Argentina last week, calling the practice "a shameful and outrageous reality" and pledging to do more to fight it.
"We warn of the existence of organized mafias that use smaller networks that are present in nearly all of our cities and towns," the statement said.
Citing reports from global nonprofit groups, the bishops noted that child sex trafficking rings were also operating in the area.
The bishops pledged to raise awareness of the problem, push for legal reforms and assist victims -- noting that within the church there had been "an absence of proposals dedicated to attracting young people (to the church), and the absence of a more decisive and broad response to the problem (of human trafficking)."
Such an approach is not surprising, said Sergio Rubin, a journalist who has written extensively about the Catholic Church in Argentina.
"The church is assuming its role, and they believe that they must work a lot more in the formation of religious values," Rubin said.
Mario Ganora, a lawyer who works with La Alameda, an Argentinian nonprofit that helps victims of human trafficking, said the increase in human trafficking was connected to an increase in drug consumption.
"How? ... The women who are used for sex trafficking are also used for the delivery of drugs," he said.
According to official data from Argentina's Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, 176 people were rescued from human trafficking networks in Argentina in April, a higher number than the entire previous trimester.