VATICAN CITY, OCT. 28, 2005 ( Benedict XVI noted the growing phenomenon of migrant women and appealed to all Christians to ensure their just treatment and recognize "their equal rights."

The Pope made his appeal in a message written for the 92nd World Day of Migrants and Refugees -- including economic migrants, refugees and asylum seekers -- which will be observed next Jan. 15.

For the Holy Father, the phenomenon of migration -- which affects at least 175 million people, or 2.9% of the world's population -- is a genuine "sign of the times."

The Bishop of Rome specifically notes in the message the recent "feminization" of migration.

"[W]women cross the border of their homeland alone in search of work in another country," he states. "Indeed, it often happens that the migrant woman becomes the principal source of income for her family."

"It is a fact that the presence of women is especially prevalent in sectors that offer low salaries. If, then, migrant workers are particularly vulnerable, this is even more so in the case of women," he wrote.

"The most common employment opportunities for women, other than domestic work, consist in helping the elderly, caring for the sick and working in the hotel sector," the message states.

The Pontiff also underlines the problem of "trafficking in human beings -- especially women -- which flourishes where opportunities to improve their standard of living or even to survive are limited."

He adds: "It becomes easier for the trafficker to offer his own 'services' to the victims, who often do not even vaguely suspect what awaits them."

Modern slaves

Referring to the experience of many women of poor countries who are obliged to prostitute themselves in industrialized countries, the Pope continues: "In some cases there are women and girls who are destined to be exploited almost like slaves in their work, and not infrequently in the sex industry."

Benedict XVI repeats Pope John Paul II's condemnation of "the widespread hedonistic and commercial culture which encourages the systematic exploitation of sexuality," and considers urgent "a whole program of redemption and liberation from which Christians cannot withdraw."

He adds: "These, too, are areas where Christians are called to dedicate themselves to assuring just treatment for migrant women out of respect for their femininity in recognition of their equal rights."