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newsFight against human trafficking: Council and European Parliament strike deal to strengthen rules

Today the Belgian presidency of the Council and representatives of the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement to add forced marriage, illegal adoption and surrogacy as types of exploitation covered by the EU’s anti-trafficking law. The update of the directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings will also require EU countries to make sure that people knowingly using services provided by victims of trafficking can face sanctions. Other amendments concern the strengthening of victims' support and assistance as well as prevention measures.

Human trafficking is a criminal act that has a severe human toll. This much-needed update of the directive will better equip member states to fight this awful crime in all its forms.

Paul Van Tigchelt, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice and the North Sea

Forced marriage, illegal adoption and surrogacy

Council and European Parliament negotiators agreed to explicitly mention in the directive that the exploitation of surrogacy, forced marriage and illegal adoption are types of exploitation which fall under the scope of the definition of trafficking. The trafficking for the exploitation of surrogacy, which is when a woman agrees to deliver a child on behalf of another person or couple to become the child’s parent(s) after birth, will target those who coerce or deceive women into acting as surrogate mothers.

Including these forms of trafficking in the EU anti-trafficking law will take into account the prevalence and the relevance of these forms of exploitation.

Penalties and sanctions

As is the case in the current directive, the new types of exploitation (forced marriage, illegal adoption and surrogacy) will be punishable by a maximum penalty of at least five years of imprisonment, or of at least ten years of imprisonment in case of aggravated offences.

The Council and EU Parliament have also decided to include a new aggravating circumstance in the law to take into account the amplifying effect that information and communication technologies (ICT) can have as regards trafficking. This includes the fact that the perpetrator facilitated or committed the dissemination, by means of ICT, of images, videos or similar material of a sexual nature involving the victim.

Sanctions on legal persons, such as companies, held accountable for trafficking offences will also be beefed up. They will from now on cover the exclusion from access to public funding, including tender procedures, grants, concessions and licences, and the withdrawal of permits and authorisations to pursue activities which have resulted in committing the offence.

Using services provided by victims of trafficking

The agreement between Council and European Parliament foresees that member states must make it a criminal offence if a person who uses the service provided by a trafficking victim knows that the person is a victim of trafficking. In such cases, member states need to ensure that this offence is punishable by effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties.

Under the current law member states should only consider making the use of services of persons exploited by human traffickers a criminal offence.

Next steps

Today’s provisional agreement will be submitted to member state’s representatives in the Council (Coreper) for confirmation. It will also have to be formally adopted by both institutions.

Background information

In 2011, the EU adopted a directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting the victims of this crime. This is a key instrument in the fight against human trafficking as it sets minimum rules concerning the definition (at national level) of criminal offences and sanctions. It also includes EU-wide rules to strengthen prevention and protection of victims.

According to European Commission data, sexual and labour exploitation are the main purposes of trafficking in human beings. However, begging or organ removal – already explicitly mentioned in the 2011 directive – and forced marriage and illegal adoption – which are not explicitly mentioned – now represent 11% of all victims in the EU in 2020.

 Copyright European Union