EU tackles sex trade

By Angus Roxburgh, BBC News Online, Friday 9 February 2001, 15:42 GMT

European Union justice and home affairs ministers have ended a two-day meeting in Stockholm with a discussion of ways to combat the trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation.

Ministers concentrated on what they described as a modern form of slavery—the smuggling of women and children into Europe to be used in the burgeoning prostitution and pornography business.

The ministers agreed to speed up work aimed at finding common approaches to deal with the problem.

The European Commission estimates that up to half-a-million women are forced into sexual slavery in the EU each year.

It has issued framework proposals for EU legislation in this field and already certain priorities are emerging.

Action needed

Antonio Vitorino, the EU Legal Affairs Commissioner, appealed to the EU's existing 15 members and to all candidate countries to ratify the UN Convention on International Organised Crime. The convention cannot come into force until 40 countries ratify it.

There was general agreement that in the coming months EU members must move towards harmonising laws and penalties to deal with human trafficking. Criminals should not have the option of moving to more lenient countries.

Among the specific proposals made to help bring criminals to justice, ministers suggested that victims who co-operate with the police and give evidence in court should be given all the protection they need to avoid suffering reprisals.