Trafficking in human beings endangers thousands of individuals in the European Union every year. Traffickers prey on social and economic inequalities and vulnerability of people, which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Combatting trafficking in human beings is a priority for the European Union and there has been progress in many respects. Nevertheless, the crime remains a serious threat in the European Union and beyond. In the EU, the majority of the victims are women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation, and almost every fourth victim is a child. Half of the victims are EU citizens, many trafficked within their own States.
Victims are also identified in mixed migration flows, with women and children being at particular risks of being trafficked along migration routes. Demand for labour exploitation remains very high. Moreover, traffickers moved to a new business model of online recruitment and exploitation of victims, making it more difficult for law enforcement and the judiciary to respond.
Trafficking must be seen in an integrated, holistic, human rights, victim-centered and gender and child-sensitive approach.
To address these challenges, the European Commission presented in April the EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings 2021-2025.
It addresses trafficking in a comprehensive way, from the prevention to the conviction of criminals, while emphasising the protection of the victims at all stages. The Strategy lays down priorities to reduce the demand that fosters the crime; break the criminal business model of traffickers both offline and online; protect, support and empower the victims, especially women and children; and focuses on the international dimension.
In this context, civil society organisations play an important role. The European Commission already works closely with the EU Civil Society Platform against Trafficking in Human Beings, which gathers nearly 100 NGOs from EU and non-EU countries. The role of civil society is crucial in identifying victims at an early stage, and in providing them with assistance, support, and protection.
Trafficking in human beings is a transnational and global phenomenon and the European Union priorities fully apply in the context of the EU external policies. The European Union has acceded to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. The European Commission supports the EU Member States and non-EU partner countries in the implementation of these instruments, including in the context of the recently launched review mechanism. The Commission will pursue closer cooperation with relevant actors in relation to the UN Protocol.
Our multilateral work, including as part of the implementation of the Global Plan of Action, is critical in that respect. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime plays an important role in this context. We welcome the contribution that today’s hearing is making to this.