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Press release

Tougher rules to combat trafficking in human beings

Justice and home affairs - 14-12-2010 - 11:59
Committees : Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs / Women's Rights and Gender Equality
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More rigorous prevention, tougher penalties for traffickers and better protection for victims, are the key aims of a new EU law on trafficking in human beings, agreed by Parliament and Council representatives and approved in committee on Monday. The new law would apply to trafficking in the sex industry or labour exploitation in, for example, construction work, farming or domestic service.

Several hundred thousand people are trafficked into or within the EU each year. Many victims are exploited for prostitution (43%, overwhelmingly women and girls), or for menial labour (32%).
The new EU directive, approved by the Civil Liberties and Women's Rights committees on Monday, lays down minimum rules for defining criminal offences and sanctions for traffickers and introduces common rules to step up crime prevention and protection for victims. It still needs to be endorsed by Parliament as a whole, in December, and the Council.
"The negotiations have been difficult but we feel that we have reached good results and attained the most important of Parliament's points. With this proposal, we will create a tougher environment for the human traffickers and stronger protection for the victims”, said Civil Liberties Committee rapporteur Anna Hedh (S&D, SE), who steered the proposal through Parliament together with Women's Rights Committee rapporteur Edit Bauer (EPP, SK).
"The biggest achievement in my view is that this new directive creates a dissuasive environment for traffickers and ensures assistance and protection for victims of trafficking, especially for children. Even though we had to give up on some issues that were in our original proposal but I am convinced that the achieved result is a good one and the adopted directive will create a better legal basis in comparison with the old 2002/629 Framework Decision", added Ms Bauer.
New rules to cover additional forms of exploitation
The text takes a broader view of what counts as trafficking in human beings than does the EU framework decision of 2002 (which it is to replace) and includes additional forms of exploitation, as requested by MEPs.
"Exploitation" now includes, as a minimum, exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, including begging, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, or the exploitation of criminal activities, or the removal of organs. The definition also covers trafficking in human beings for illegal adoption or forced marriages.
“Exploitation of criminal activities” means exploitation of a person to commit, for example, pick-pocketing, shop-lifting, drug trafficking and other crimes that are subject to penalties and involve financial gain.
Stiffer penalties for traffickers and proceeds to be confiscated
The new directive sets maximum EU-wide penalties of at least five years' imprisonment (i.e. Member States may not impose lower ceilings) or, in specific aggravating circumstances, ten years' imprisonment. These aggravating circumstances include cases where children are exploited, criminal organisations are involved, the victim's life is endangered or serious violence is used. Instigating, aiding, abetting or simply attempting to commit such an offence will also be punishable.
Where legal persons (organisations) are involved, sanctions should include criminal or non-criminal fines and could also include, for example, exclusion from entitlement to public benefits or aid, temporary or permanent disqualification from engaging in commercial activities, and the placing under judicial supervision or the temporary or permanent closure of establishments.
Member States should also ensure that the instruments and proceeds of these crimes are seized and confiscated. They are also “encouraged” to use them to support help and protection for victims, including compensation.
Broader protection for victims
Victims should receive accommodation, material assistance and where necessary medical treatment, including psychological assistance, counselling and information, say MEPs. Legal counselling and legal representation should be free of charge, at least when the victim lacks sufficient financial resources. Victims of trafficking should also have access to witness protection programmes and to compensation schemes.
Assistance and support should be provided “before, during and for an appropriate time after criminal proceedings”, irrespective of a victim's willingness to act as a witness. A requirement not to prosecute or impose penalties on victims is explicitly stated in the text.
Discouraging demand
MEPs believed that making it a crime to knowingly use the services of a trafficked person could have a strong preventive effect, by discouraging demand. However, the text agreed with the Council only encourages such measures. Member States “shall consider taking measures to establish as a criminal offence the use of services” of a victim, “with the knowledge that he/she has been trafficked”. This criminalisation could include employers of legally-staying third-country nationals and EU nationals, as well to as buyers of sexual services from any trafficked person, irrespective of their nationality.
Within five years the European Commission must submit a report assessing the impact of existing national laws that make it a crime to use services "which are the objects of exploitation of trafficking in human beings" or aim to prevent trafficking in human beings. This report must be accompanied, if necessary, by appropriate proposals.
Anti-Trafficking Co-ordinator
The text also provides for the appointment of an Anti-Trafficking Co-ordinator, who would also contribute to Commission reports on progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings.
This agreement will be put to a vote by the full Parliament at its December plenary session in Strasbourg. Member States will have two years to transpose the new rules into national law. The directive will not apply to Denmark and the UK, but the latter might still opt in to the new rules later.
Joint committee vote:  51 in favour, none against, no abstentions
In the chair:
Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES) - Civil Liberties Committee
Eva-Britt Svensson (GUE/NGL, SE) - Women's Rights Committee 
REF.: 20101129IPR02528