5th Jun 2023

Majority of trafficked children 'are EU citizens'

  • In absolute numbers, Romanian nationals were the worst-affected, with some 2,315 registered as trafficked in 2019 to 2020 (Photo: Ira Gelb)
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More than half of registered trafficking victims are EU nationals, with most sold off for sex, according to the European Commission.

"We can see that a huge majority of the trafficked children are EU citizens," Ylva Johansson, the EU home affairs commissioner, told reporters on Monday (19 December).

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Around a quarter are children, according to a European commission report.

Most of those are registered in Romania, followed by Germany and the Netherlands.

Along with women, they are "mainly trafficked for sexual purposes," she said, noting that around a third are trafficked within their own country.

"If you traffic drugs or firearms, you can only sell it once," she said.

"But if you traffic a woman, a girl for sexual purposes, you can sell her body again and again and again and again," she said.

In absolute numbers, Romanian nationals were the worst-affected, with some 2,315 registered as trafficked in 2019 to 2020.

Although sex-trafficking ranks the highest, the figure also includes other trafficking categories such as work.

Romanians were followed by French (1,202), Italian (904) Bulgarian (553) and Polish (518).

Tip of the iceberg

In terms of number of victims proportionate to the population size, Romania also ranks first, followed by Bulgaria and Hungary.

But Johansson described such figures as the "tip of the iceberg", noting that the crime has increasingly moved online making it more difficult to detect.

The EU commission now wants to impose mandatory sanctions against firms that help the traffic. Those mandatory sanctions will be folded into the EU's anti-trafficking directive, she said.

The commission also wants to extend the definition of trafficking to include forced marriage and illegal adoptions.

Another new rule will also make it a mandatory criminal offence to knowingly exploit a victim of trafficking.

Hungary, the Netherlands and Germany have adopted or passed laws that make it crime when the user knows the person has been trafficked.

Others like Ireland, France, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Spain are discussing it.

This also extends to people trafficked for labour, including construction workers.

"Maybe the person is not employed, but you'd use the services of a victim of trafficking and this will be equally criminalised," she said.

Most of those trafficked for labour are men, a figure that is also on the rise, says the European Commission report.

It noted that sexual exploitation made up 51-percent of the share of trafficking cases, followed by labour exploitation (28 percent). Other forms of exploitation include forced begging. Less than one percent involved organ removal, it noted.


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