Taking care of the many women and children living on the streets was the topic addressed at a meeting held in the Vatican from September 13-15. Organized by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, it brought together representatives from 42 countries.

The resulting Plan of Action that has just been released insisted both on the need to uphold the dignity of the human person and also the responsibility all have to help those in need.

The plan referred to various Church documents that have highlighted various problems, such as traditional customs and practices that give fewer opportunities for women and girls, compared to men and boys. Large urban areas are also sometimes fertile ground for crime, terrorism and prostitution. Sexual tourism is another way in which women and girls are exploited.

“It is essential, therefore, to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability such as the reality of women who particularly endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence because of their frequently less ability to defend their rights,” the document stated.

The Plan of Action deplored the existence of human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children.

“All are encouraged, therefore, to work to help men and women, and children who are enslaved, exploited, abused as instruments of work or pleasure, who are often tortured and sadly mutilated.”

The Church and ecclesial institutions cannot, therefore remain silent or close their eyes to the problem of the homeless women and children, the document stated.

“Every child who is marginalized, abandoned, who lives on the street begging with every kind of trick, without schooling, without medical care, is a cry that rises up to God and denounces the system that we adults have set in place,” the Plan of Action said.

It also called upon governments to protect women and children with legal measures and to help them get off the streets. As well, those who exploit such people should be brought to justice.

The Plan of Action also urged episcopal conferences, bishops and the heads of religious communities to do all they can to reduce the exploitation of women and children. The problems involved with homeless should also be a topic studied as part of the program of formation in seminaries and religious formation.