Monday 30. November 2020
#155 - December 2012


Trafficking in human beings in the EU


Although the EU and Member States have adopted new measures to combat human trafficking, better implementation and coordination are the key to success.


It is estimated that 880,000 human beings are victims of trafficking in the EU every year (out of 20.9 million in the world, according to ILO). The phenomenon is quite diverse in its nature: ranging from “domestic slavery” such as servitude, fake au pairs and the so called “mail-order brides”, to sex trafficking, organ trafficking, bonded labour and child soldiering. Moreover, the victims come from a variety of countries of origin both in the EU (particularly Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary), and outside the EU (Nigeria, China, Vietnam, Ukraine, and Russia); and in travelling routes and the recruitment instruments used by mafias (with an increasing use of the Internet for their criminal purposes). In this criminal business, with profits around 25 billion Euros worldwide, the victims are mainly women and children - sexual exploitation being the most common form of trafficking - although men are now equally exploited in the area of labour exploitation.


Since the 90s, the EU has adopted certain decisions to fight against trafficking in human beings; but through the 2000s the outcomes in the fight against these criminal activities were weak and disappointing. Directive 2004/81/EC on residence permits for victims of trafficking in human beings and other related Directives (e.g., Directive 2004/80/EC on compensation for crime victims; and Directive 2009/52/EC on sanctions against employers of illegally staying third country nationals) were initially expected to have better results in the battle against this modern form of slavery. But the complexity of the phenomenon and the ease of change in the criminals’ patterns of behaviour and organization make it more difficult to legislate and combat the new realities.


The EU approved in 2011 three important Directives which could have a positive impact in the fight against trafficking in human beings: Directive 2011/92/EU on sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography; Directive 2011/99/EU on the European Protection Order in criminal matters; and, above all, Directive 2011/36/EC which adopts an integrated, holistic and human rights approach to the fight against trafficking in human beings. Furthermore, the appointment of an EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator and the launching in June 2012 of the Strategy on combating trafficking in human beings will improve the framework for combating these criminal activities. This Strategy recognizes that there is a risk of overlapping and duplication of initiatives”, and aims to “ provide a coherent framework for existing and planned initiatives, to set priorities, to fill gaps and therefore complement the recently adopted Directive.”


The main responsibility for addressing trafficking in human beings lies with the Member States: with their obligations to transpose and implement Directive 2011/36/EU and to ratify International instruments. New measures should be taken (for example, the adoption of the proposed Directive on freezing and confiscation of proceeds of crime in the EU) in order to reduce the profits of the criminals engaged in these activities. We also need States to demonstrate a determination to persecute and sanction trafficking criminals (see, for example, the recent judgment C.N. v UK by the European Court of Human Rights, published on 13 November 2012, condemning the United Kingdom for an ineffective investigation in a domestic servitude case).


One of the key issues in the fight against trafficking in human beings is the early identification of, assistance to, and support for victims. Training of law enforcement officials and prosecutors, health personnel, and all those who might possibly come into contact with victims is essential for success. But so also is the creation of special investigation units and a better cooperation between different stakeholders, including civil society and Churches.


The most important thing however is prevention, through an understanding of the root causes of trafficking - in both the demand and supply sides- which are not only social, economic and cultural but also of a moral nature. The perception that the human body is a commodity that can be freely disposed of and the unrestricted and excessive desire for profits are also ethical issues that are at the core of this problem. The moral dimension of the issue must not be lost in an integrated approach if we want to win the fight against trafficking in human beings.


José Luis Bazán


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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.