European Network Against Trafficking in Human Beings

Human rights impact

Negative impact of anti-trafficking policies

In the past 10 years, there has been increased attention for the issue trafficking in human beings. This is not only reflected in the development of international legislation, but also in the number of international and intergovernmental organisations involved in the fight against trafficking. Several offices of the UN, the OSCE, the IOM and ILO have their own counter-trafficking programmes. It is remarkable, therefore, that despite all this governmental attention, the rate of successful court cases is extremely low. Trafficking remains a high-profit, low-risk crime.

Although trafficking is widely recognised as a serious human rights violation, most states do not provide adequate remedies to trafficked persons, such as assistance, protection and compensation. Even if short-term assistance and protection are offered, long-term solutions, such as access to the labour market or long-term residence permits - if a trafficked person cannot or does not want to return to her or his home country - are lacking. In general, state policies tend to concentrate on measures in the area of crime control and migration policy and much less on the assistance and protection of the human rights of trafficked persons.

In many cases, trafficked persons cannot fall back on the support of the state because they have no legal residence status or cannot prove their identity. Moreover, they risk being detained, deported, prosecuted or punished for the illegality of their entry or stay, for having been involved in prostitution or other illegal activities, such as begging, or for other offences that are a direct consequence of their situation as trafficked persons, such as the use of false papers. In particular, women who are trafficked into the sex industry are faced with triple marginalisation: as women, as migrants and as prostitutes. The majority of people who have been trafficked would not dare to notify the police or press charges out of a (very concrete) fear of reprisals from their traffickers.

It is estimated that only a small fraction of trafficked persons is actually identified. Additionally, only a small percentage of the identified trafficked persons decides to press charges or to act as a witness.

Despite the fact that the Palermo Protocol lays down that consent is irrelevant if any of the coercive or deceptive means listed in the definition are used, government agencies still tend to take the (incorrect) position that women who have previously been working in the sex industry, or who are willing to do so, cannot become a victim of trafficking. Also, there have been several cases in which judges ruled that trafficking could not be proven as the trafficked person had signed a contract with his or her exploiter.
In addition, a number of countries lack adequate legislation, in particular with regard to internal trafficking and trafficking into other industries than the sex industry. In other cases, legislation exists but is flawed or not properly implemented. Another structural problem hindering successful detection and prosecution is corruption within governmental institution. All these factors mean that cases of trafficking are still rarely brought to prosecution. Many cases are dismissed and traffickers are rarely sentenced.

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