Brussels, 25 March 2009
The European Commission has today adopted two proposals for new rules to step up the fight against trafficking in human beings and child sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and child pornography. These new proposals replace existing legislation which has been in place since respectively 2002 and 2004. The new proposals will guarantee full alignment with the highest European standards, provide better assistance for victims and tougher action against criminals responsible for child sexual abuse and trafficking. The proposals also deal with the rapidly changing technologies in the cyberspace.
Vice President Barrot, in charge of Justice, Freedom and Security said : "We want to build an EU that is truly able to protect the most vulnerable citizens against the most terrible crimes. When we say trafficking in human beings we are talking about women and girls reduced to sexual slavery, children beaten and mistreated, forced to beg and to steal, young adults compelled to work in appalling conditions for hunger wages. When we speak about child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, we are speaking about horrendous crimes against children that leave deep scars and suffering for their whole lives."
Key facts and figures
According to International Labour Organisation globally 1.225 million people are trafficked transnationally or within their own countries. Most victims of trafficking are exploited for prostitution (43%) or for labour (32%). Regarding forced commercial sexual exploitation, an overwhelming majority (98%) are women and girls. It is reasonable to estimate from the available figures that several hundred thousand people are trafficked into the EU or within the EU every year.
Studies suggest that a significant minority of children in Europe, between 10% and 20% as an informed scientific estimate, will be sexually assaulted during their childhood.
In 2008 more than 1000 commercial and about 500 non-commercial child abuse content websites were found, of which 71% in the US. It is estimated that about 20% of child porn websites are non-commercial (mostly Peer-to-Peer (P2P)).
It is estimated that some 20% of sex offenders on average (with big differences between different profiles of offenders) go on to commit new offences after conviction.
The new proposals
The two proposals for Council Framework Decisions would oblige EU countries to act on the three fronts of prosecuting criminals, protecting victims and preventing the offences.
The proposal to fight trafficking in human beings approximates national legislations and penalties, makes sure that offenders are brought to justice even if they commit crimes abroad. It will allow police to use phone tapping, eavesdropping and other similar tools used to fight organised crime. Victims will receive accommodation and medical care and if necessary police protection so that they recover from their plight and are not afraid to testify against their perpetrators. They will be protected from further traumatisation during criminal proceedings, deriving for example from probing questions about the experience related to their forced sexual exploitation. Victims will receive free legal aid throughout the proceedings including for the purpose of claiming financial compensation. The proposal encourages sanctions against clients of people forced to offer sexual services and against employers exploiting trafficked people. The proposal also establishes independent bodies to monitor implementation of these actions.
The proposal to fight the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children makes it easier to punish those who abuse children by providing criminal sanctions for new forms of abuse like 'grooming' - luring children through internet and abusing them, viewing child pornography without downloading files or making children pose sexually in front of webcams. "Sex tourists" travelling abroad to abuse children will face prosecution when they come home. Child victims will be able to testify without having to face the offender at court to spare them from additional trauma and will be helped by a free lawyer. Every offender should be assessed individually and have access to tailor made treatment so that they don't abuse again. The prohibitions from activities involving contact with children imposed on offenders should be effective not just in the country where they were convicted but across the EU. Systems to block access to websites containing child pornography will be developed
The proposals will be discussed in the EU Council of Ministers and once approved should be translated into national legislations.
VP Barrot concluded: "Our message is clear. These crimes which know no borders are unacceptable. Europe will continue to set the highest and most ambitious standards in fighting them".