GENEVA - A United Nations panel has urged Ireland to investigate allegations that for decades women and girls sent to work in Catholic laundries were tortured.

The panel said the government failed in its obligation to oversee the nun-run laundries "where it is alleged that physical, emotional abuses and other ill-treatment were committed." It has asked for compensation for the victims.

Human rights groups say young women were abused after being sent to the so-called Magdalene Laundries, a network of 10 workhouses that operated in Ireland from the 1920s to the mid-1990s. Many of the victims were teenagers who arrived as punishment for petty crimes or for becoming pregnant out of wedlock.

The Geneva-based U.N. Committee against Torture said the Irish government "should institute prompt, independent, and thorough investigations into all allegations of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that were allegedly committed" at the laundries.

Although such abuses were publicized in films such as "The Magdalene Sisters," Ireland has been slow to confront abuse within Catholic dioceses and church-run institutions.

The U.N. panel's report, published yesterday, recommended that the Irish government "in appropriate cases, prosecute and punish the perpetrators with penalties commensurate with the . . . offenses committed."

It also called on authorities to ensure that all victims received the right to demand compensation.The panel made similar recommendations about alleged abuses in boys' institutions.