VATICAN CITY Roman Catholic nuns backed by Pope Francis on Tuesday raised the alarm over increased risks of human trafficking, exploitation of workers, forced prostitution and sexual tourism at the soccer World Cup in Brazil next month.
The nuns, whose campaign is also backed by the U.S. embassy to the Vatican, announced an international campaign called "Play in Favor of Life - Denounce Human Trafficking," on the risks they say will be associated with the June 12 - July 13 tournament.
"We need to make people conscious of what happens on the margins of big world events such as the FIFA World Cup and the suffering of those who are trafficked," said Sister Carmen Sammut, a Maltese nun and one of the campaign organizers.
"Without this awareness, without acting together in favor of human dignity, the World Cup finals may turn out to be a terrible shame instead of a feast for humanity," she told a news conference at the Vatican.
Sammut said the initiative had the full backing of Pope Francis, an avid Argentine soccer fan who has called several conferences at the Vatican to study ways of combating human trafficking.
Sister Gabriella Bottani, an Italian nun who works in Brazil, said human traffickers and others took advantage of large events like the World Cup to exploit the most vulnerable.
She said young people from the countryside are lured with the promise of a job and forced into prostitution. Children in rural areas may be kidnapped and taken to cities hosting the venues and forced to beg.
Others who are already being exploited as sex workers may be forced to move to one of the 12 venue cities because they would be more profitable to their pimps.
In countries like Brazil, she said, large events could also give rising to kidnapping for adoption. "It is amazing how so many forces of evil can converge to cause so much harm against human freedom."
The nuns said statistics showed that sexual exploitation rose 30 percent in connection with the World Cup in Germany in 2006 and 40 percent at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
The nuns will be raising awareness of the dangers of human trafficking and other crimes connected to the World Cup through their blog gritopelavida.blogspot.com.br/, their Facebook page here and other social media.
Volunteers will be handing out leaflets in cities in Brazil and other Latin American countries, warning of human trafficking and how to spot it. Several demonstrations are planned.
Catholic nuns have for years been in the front line in the fight against human trafficking.
They have formed the International Network of Consecrated Life Against Trafficking in Persons, known as Talitha Kum (Little Girl, Arise), a phrase in Aramaic taken from the Bible. It has members in more than 30 countries.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)