Europe needs a forceful response and a victim-centred approach
Human trafficking is a complex crime that is constantly evolving, with traffickers adopting newer methods and routes. Strasbourg Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi discusses the current state of human trafficking in Europe, evaluates the tools used to tackle the crime and calls for a strong stance to eradicate the hideous crime
There is no doubt that trafficking in human beings is a modern form of slavery that ruthlessly exploits the most vulnerable members of society by tricking or forcing victims into prostitution, forced labour or other forms of exploitation.
Trafficking in human beings is a widespread crime and a global phenomenon. It is a severe violation of fundamental human rights and a serious form of organised crime that affects women, men, girls and boys generating billions of euros in profits for traffickers. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that human trafficking brings the biggest source of illicit earnings after drug-related crimes.
Human trafficking is unacceptable in every sense of the word and it must be stopped. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, this modern form of slavery still exists and affects millions of people around the world. We must never give up and make sure that we do everything possible to eradicate this hideous crime.
Despite constant interest in addressing the problem and keeping it high on the international policy agenda, the extent and severity of human trafficking remains alarming. Just within the EU alone, several thousands are trafficked every year for various reasons, such as forced labour, prostitution, illegal trade in human organs and illegal adoptions among others.
The very nature of this crime makes it difficult to obtain information on the offenders, the victims, and the traffic flows. Nevertheless, current estimates show that women and girls form the vast majority of human trafficking victims, both in and outside the EU.
Trafficking of women for sexual exploitation has not only sharply increased in recent years, but has become the most commonly identified form of human trafficking.
According to Eurostat, 80% of the victims are female and 70% of traffickers are male. The data clearly demonstrates that trafficking in persons remains a crime with a strong gender connotation. The gender dimension of trafficking in human beings is a serious issue. Every day, hundreds of women and girls across the world and within the EU lose their lives at the hands of traffickers to become sex slaves.
Alarmingly, another worrying trend is the increase in child victims. 27% of all victims detected globally are children. Of every three child victims, two are girls and one is a boy. Children are clearly more vulnerable than adults and easier targets for criminals due to the low risk of detection. Children lack experience and maturity and are more prone to trust others who obviously do not a have their best interest at heart and see them as money making objects.
Another vulnerable group, besides women and children, are migrants and refugees fleeing wars or natural disasters. The irregular status of migrants and asylum seekers further aggravates their vulnerability to traffickers. There are many other potentially vulnerable persons, including adolescents, who may become easy targets for exploitation in the sex industry.
What do we know about this illegal activity? We know that trafficking in persons is a serious problem with a cross-border dimension affecting all countries in the world and imposing severe harm on the victims. We know that victims are trafficked through countries and between countries using intra- and interregional trafficking routes.
We know the most vulnerable parts of society often become victims to trafficking. We know the main channels and practices used by the traffickers. We know the reasons and different forms of exploitation. We have broad knowledge on the subject, but somehow we still lack the determination to break the circle of impunity. We have the why, but we are missing the how… How are we going to fight and stop this mistreatment, abuse and exploitation?
We are all concerned and we all agree that the issue should be treated with urgency by each and every Member State. But despite our knowledge and our willingness to eradicate this modern plague, the severity of the problem remains a challenge and still many of the criminals walk free as conviction rates in Member States remain low.
Although much has been achieved at the European level, with the adoption of a comprehensive legal and policy framework guided by the European Union’s Anti-trafficking Directive and the EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012-2016, gaps in implementation, enforcement and coordination of EU and national policies still exist.
Trafficking in persons is a complex crime that is constantly changing. Traffickers are constantly adopting and mastering different trafficking methods and routes, creating a complex and evolving web of trafficking flows worldwide. Individual member states are not able to fight cross-border trafficking networks and the right way forward is only through a common European response.
Overall, the European Union has the tools to tackle this crime. The widespread ratification of the Anti-trafficking Directive is a success story not only for Europe but globally. The directive is considered to be the global gold standard for protection of victims. The directive is a stepping stone in the right direction, but it has its shortcomings, which sooner or later need to be addressed. Therefore, I call on the EU and its member states to do more.
The Commission needs to present, as soon as possible, a report on compliance of the Directive, which must ensure a clear gender perspective in fighting human-trafficking, assess the new trends in trafficking in particular when it comes to migrant, women and children smuggling, and last but not least measure the impacts and results of the current anti-trafficking actions.
In addition, the Commission also has to ensure that the current EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings that expires in 2016 is extended beyond 2020.
Human trafficking at the European level requires a forceful response and a holistic victim-centred approach based on respect of human rights and protection of victims and focused on preventive measures to combat trafficking and reduce future demand and supply.
We need to improve law enforcement and fine tune the criminal justice system to ensure that traffickers are investigated, prosecuted and convicted.
We need to ensure a comprehensive legal framework to respond to the constant changes ensuring that the Member States have appropriate measures to counter new practices connected to trafficking, such as cybercrime and the spread use of the digital and social media tools.
We need to expand police and judiciary cooperation to help better identify the victims and increase knowledge and awareness about this problem which will help detect and punish criminal activities. Furthermore, we need to give priority to the rights of victims and their specific needs and ensure that a support system is in place to address their traumas. We also need special provisions concerning children that will always take into consideration what is best for the child.
Last but not least, we need to collect more and better information on victims, traffickers, and trafficking at the national level in order to facilitate improved analysis at the European and international levels respectively. Furthermore, we need a cross-border intelligence sharing system for the identification of traffickers and to facilitate each member state to come down on these criminals by adopting harsh legislation which would allow the judiciary to deliver sentences fit for such a heinous crime, which goes against basic human rights and dignity.