Effective response to trafficking remains a distant goal. A coordinated EU approach against trafficking in people needed to fight the criminals and protect victims.
Human trafficking is growing both within the EU and globally. The expansion of the EU eastward and the relaxation of internal border controls have led to an increase both from one EU country to another and into the EU from other countries, says a 2009 Europol report .
Women and children, the main victims of human trafficking, are mostly transported across borders for forced prostitution or labour. Children are also trafficked for exploitation as beggars or for illegal activities such as petty theft.
Human trafficking is a multi-million euro business run mainly by networks of organised gangs. The estimated number of people trafficked to or within the EU amount to several hundred thousand yearly.
Preventing people trafficking, prosecuting the criminals and helping victims are at the core of a common EU approach to combating this modern form of slavery.
As part of the fourth European Anti-Trafficking Day, a conference in Brussels from 18 to 19 October will reflect on how to achieve these goals, while highlighting a criminal activity that is difficult to fight. Victims are often too afraid to break free or testify in court.
To step up the fight against human trafficking, the commission proposes a common, cross-border approach both internally and internationally. Within the EU, this would lead to better police and judicial cooperation among member states, along with more consistent legislation and sentences.
EU nationals would face charges even if they commit crimes abroad. Those who use the services of trafficked people, whether for sexual exploitation or labour, would also be punished. Victims themselves would receive better protection, legal aid and assistance.
The EU is also taking action on the international front. Cooperation with other countries seeks to stop trafficking at its source, while EU funds are available to prevent trafficking. EU partners can use the funding for training officials for example, or even to improve the lives of the vulnerable.