Freedom of movement has granted Europeans with many remarkable things as people can search for new ways of living in other countries. Nevertheless, the lack of surveillance of movement comes with a dark side. Human trafficking, which can be defined as organized criminals transporting vulnerable people for financial gain, is strongly prohibited by many international and European conventions but still continues to take place every day. In recent times, the combination of free movement, poverty and the lack of effective governance have resulted for example in thousands of Romanian women leaving their homes, only to end up in the hands of human traffickers. These girls try to search for better lives but often end up earning their living as sex workers in Western Europe. For instance, German statistics show that the Romanian nationals represent a significant portion of sex workers in the German sex industry. The issue of human trafficking, which can be understood as a form of contemporary slavery, is common and the actual number of its victims is estimated to be significantly higher than the officially recorded numbers reveal.
The European Union is taking steps towards encountering the issue. Previously ten EU agencies have committed to working together against human trafficking and now the European Commission is calling for proposals to support victims of trafficking in human beings. However, even if these steps are taking the EU in the right direction, there are still many problems to be solved.
The European Commission report assessing the extent to which Member States have taken the necessary measures in order to comply with Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims in accordance with Article 23 (1) was published in December 2016. It shows that, despite substantial efforts undertaken in the field of fighting against human trafficking, EU Member States still need to step up their efforts in addressing trafficking in human beings. Significant improvement is still needed in specific child protection measures, presumption of childhood and child age assessment, the protection before and during criminal proceedings, access to unconditional assistance, compensation, non-punishment, assistance and support to the family member of a child victim, as well as, prevention.
As Europeans we have done a lot already but there is still a lot to be done. The only option is that we do our best and maybe in a year or two we will be truly able to congratulate ourselves on the World Day against Human Trafficking at the end of July.
TEXT Terhi Raikas
PHOTO Skoll Foundation
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