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Will we find a way to combat trafficking in human beings?

Submitted by on 23 Nov 2010 – 17:30

The European Parliament has just adopted its position on the Commision's proposal for a directive on human trafficking.

By Edit Bauer, Member of the European Parliament

Trafficking in human beings is a severe type of organised crime, a gross violation of human rights. Despite the fact, that the number of trafficked victims in the European Union is estimated to be several hundred thousands yearly, the issue is almost unknown for the general public.

Arising from this lack of knowledge the public underestimates the seriousness of the problem. Trafficking in human beings does not necessarily mean forced prostitution, the aim of traffickers go further than that. It also includes forced labour, organ trafficking, forced begging, illegal adoptions and forced marriages. According to the latest reports, new trends are really worrying: more and more children fall prey to traffickers and more victims are reported to be involved in forced labour. In comparison with the estimated number of victims that is around hundred thousands yearly inside the EU, the number of prosecuted traffickers still remain low. We are aware of the fact that for elimination of this severe type of mainly organised crime, legislation itself is not enough. However, any improvement in the ineffective existing legislation could help to make the social environment equally dissuasive all over in Europe.

For this reason, we Parliamentarians were looking forward to the Commission’s new proposal that should repeal the Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA, the first legislation on this issue. Thanks to the Lisbon Treaty that entered into force on the 1 December 2009, the European Parliament’s role has been strengthened; it is now in co-decision procedure. This guarantees that the citizens´ views are more reflected in the new legislation.

The European Parliament has just adopted its position on the Commission’s proposal for a directive. The outcome of the vote gives a hope that the new legislation will be more effective, and that this modern slavery will be addressed more efficiently and adequately.

According to us, one of the key elements of a successful legislation is to create dissuasive environment for the traffickers and to protect the victims. In this light, we have decided to restore the Commission’s original proposal from 2009 which was unfortunately decreased by the Commission and supported by the Council. It is intolerable that in some of the Member States a trafficker can get off with a financial penalty. Such an approach helps the business to flourish and remain a low risk one.

I am convinced that penalties need to be adequate to the nature of the violation of human rights. Therefore they have to be as high as possible and should be also combined with sanctions, too. In our joint report with Mrs Hedh, we have agreed to introduce the possibility to seize and confiscate proceeds of crime and assets of traffickers. We believe this could create a sufficiently dissuasive environment for them, turning the trafficking in human beings into a “high risk, low profit” business. Moreover, we have proposed to use the confiscated assets for victim assistance and protection, including compensation of victims and EU trans-border law enforcement counter trafficking activities.

Furthermore, it is necessary to change the approach to victims’ protection, as far as the situation has changed: victims are not any more exclusively third country nationals, while relatively big part of them is nationals of Member States. We cannot treat the issue of trafficking in human beings as a problem of some illegal migrants. We have to talk about thousands of EU nationals falling prey to traffickers and being exploited and kept under unbearable conditions. I welcome the fact that the directive also focuses in on separate paragraphs on the issue of child victims.

We suggest also prosecuting those offenders who are foreign citizens and who are residing inside EU. According to our information there are many of them.

Another key element in ensuring an effective fight against trafficking in human beings within the EU is to establish an EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator. He/she should be responsible for ensuring a coherent approach against trafficking in human beings across the Member States as well as at EU level, coordinating the action of the National Rapporteurs, providing harmonised monitoring and reporting to the European Institutions. According to the European Parliament’s orientation vote on the 2nd September, the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator should be an independent authority appointed by the European Parliament and the Council.

After the orientation vote in the European Parliament, we are now facing the trialogue with the Council and the Commission. Even though that the European Parliament wants to establish stricter penalties, including confiscation of assets, providing better assistance and protection for the victims than it is the view of the Council, I sincerely hope that we can agree on a common text under the Belgian Presidency and create a legislation that will effectively address the issue of trafficking in human beings.

Nest step should be the awareness-raising: European society cannot tolerate the existence of modern-day slavery as an everyday practice.