The commission is calling for tougher laws against human trafficking and the sexual abuse of children, saying current efforts to combat these crimes don’t reflect their scale and gravity.
Globally an estimated 1.2 million people are trafficked every year, mainly for cheap labour and sexual services. Most are women and girls.
There are few reliable statistics on the number of people trafficked into or within Europe, but it is probably of the order of several hundred thousand. Yet in 2006, the most recent year for which numbers are available, prosecutors brought just 1 500 criminal trafficking cases to court. Only 3 000 victims received assistance.
Trafficking in humans is extremely profitable, and most traffickers are professional and organised criminals. Most are based outside the EU but there are now growing networks inside too, especially since the bloc’s eastward expansion.
Under the commission’s proposed changes, EU countries are encouraged to prosecute EU nationals for crimes committed in other countries and to draw on investigative methods used for other kinds of organised crime, like tapping phones and tracking criminal money movements.
The proposal calls for better legislative tools to punish traffickers and for more protection and assistance for victims. Independent national bodies would be set up to monitor implementation.
The commission has also revised legislation against the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Here again, reliable estimates are hard to obtain. But studies suggest certain forms of sexual violence against children are on the rise in Europe and that a significant minority of children in Europe, between 10% and 20%, are sexually assaulted during their childhood.
In particular, the proposal seeks to criminalise use of the internet to prey on children and to step up enforcement of laws against child pornography. In 2008 more than 1000 commercial and about 500 non-commercial child abuse content websites were found, about 70% in the US.
On behalf of the commission, the EU agency for fundamental rights is developing ways to measure child welfare n Europe, based on factors related to family environment, protection against exploitation and violence, education and civic responsibility.
More information on EU action against trafficking of humans
More information on children's rights in the EU