"Each person is precious," he said, stressing that "persons are more important than things, and the worth of an institution is measured by the way it treats the life and dignity of human beings, particularly when they are vulnerable, as in the case of child migrants."
He cautioned that the line between migration and trafficking "can at times be very subtle," and noted that the most prominent cause of the abuse and exploitation of children "is demand."
"If more rigorous and effective action is not taken against those who profit from such abuse, we will not be able to stop the multiple forms of slavery where children are the victims," he said.
Francis encouraged the international community to work together in sharing information to end such phenomena, and focused on the need to integrate children and youth migrants into their new communities.
Often times instead of focusing on welcome and integration, programs attempt "to curb the entrance of migrants, which in turn fosters illegal networks; or else immigrants are repatriated to their country of origin without any concern for their best interests."
The condition of child migrants "is worsened when their status is not regularized or when they are recruited by criminal organizations," he said, noting that in such cases "they are usually sent to detention centers."
While there, "it is not unusual for them to be arrested, and because they have no money to pay the fine or for the return journey, they can be incarcerated for long periods, exposed to various kinds of abuse and violence."
Francis stressed that in these cases, it is the right of each state to control migratory movement," but that protecting the "common good of the nation" must be seen "in conjunction with the duty to resolve and regularize the situation of child migrants," rather than contrary to it.
Long-term solutions which target the problems at their source are needed, he said, and pointed to phenomena such as war, violence corruption, poverty and human rights violations in migrants' home countries as examples.
In these cases, "children are the first to suffer, at times suffering torture and other physical violence, in addition to moral and psychological aggression, which almost always leave indelible scars."
The Pope closed his message by thanking the organizations and institutions who work with migrants, particularly children, and urged the international community to step up their efforts in ending the conflicts and violence that force people to flee their homeland.
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Entrusting all child migrants, their families and communities to the intercession of the Holy Family, Pope Francis prayed that they would "watch over and accompany each one on their journey."