Human trafficking is a growing problem throughout the European Union. Stemming from the transition to market economies in post-Soviet space and ethnic conflicts in the Balkan region, human trafficking threatens the security of men, women, and children in Eastern Europe. Forced into sexual exploitation, these victims are often left without justice, as organized crime remains unchecked by European Union and U.N. policies.
The majority of human trafficking victims in the European Union come from Bulgaria and Romania, although other countries in the Balkan region also contribute to the supply and transport of victims. Approximately 80% of human trafficking victims are women, and 69% of the victims are subject to sexual exploitation, including more than 1,000 children[i]. Victims are often characterized by a history of suffering from domestic violence, disabilities, membership to an ethnic minority, and a lack of family support—particularly those in orphanages.
The fall of the Soviet Union led to the transition from a command economy to a market economy in the post-soviet space, allowing opportunities for some, but economic hardships for many[ii]. Promises of prosperity have left some vulnerable to trafficking in the Balkan region as victims are lured in by guarantees of employment or college tuition[iii]. The decline of borders between European Union states has made the proliferation of human trafficking easier[iv]. Once coerced into trafficking, victims are held as slaves through force, deception, and debt bondage[v].
War and ethnic conflict in the Balkans has also increased the demand for human trafficking, as a connection can be made between military bases and the demand for brothels. This leads to the increased the supply of trafficked individuals coerced into sex work[vi]. During the Yugoslavian ethnic conflict, even U.N. peacekeepers were linked to known sex slave camps[vii]. In fact, U.N. troop presence seems to increase the demand for trafficking, as troops neglect their mandate and prey upon those they are meant to protect[viii]. After the conclusion of ethnic conflicts, post-war militarization, and peacekeeping operations only contributed further to the problem as peacekeeping troops increased the demand for sex workers. Despite U.N. attempts to address these crimes among more than 120,000 personnel on 16 missions, sex scandals continue from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Haiti[ix].
While the rate of human trafficking is on the rise, increasing by 18% from 2008 to 2010, the rate of convictions of the crime has fallen by 13%[x]. Meanwhile, despite calls from the international community for an increase in government action against human trafficking, only 6 European Union members have instigated stronger, although imperfect, standardized anti-trafficking legislation, including Sweden, Iceland, Norway, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.[xi].
One possible solution to this international issue would be to increase the protection of target groups, including ethnic minorities, orphans, and disabled individuals. Increasing the amount of opportunities for these individuals, be it through scholarships, employment, or housing programs, while decreasing the prevalence of fraudulent programs could reduce the ability for trafficking organizations to attract potential victims. While information campaigns exist to educate targeted groups about the warning signs associated with trafficking organizations, more programs need to be implemented in order to provide alternatives for these unemployed or impoverished individuals[xii].
Increasing the protection for and identification of trafficking victims ensures justice and allows for the successful prosecution of criminals. Current U.N. Trafficking Protocol requires member states to criminalize trafficking, yet prosecutions often use trafficking-related offenses, such as offenses of slavery or soliciting prostitution in an effort to gain easier conviction[xiii]. This practice ultimately hurts victims of human trafficking, as appropriate protection services are not often granted for these offenses. Increasing the amount of prosecutions for trafficking, rather than trafficking-related offenses, could curb the amount of organized trafficking crime in Eastern Europe. U.N. Member States already have the legal frameworks for this type of prosecution.
Although the ideal solution to trafficking resulting from ethnic conflict would be universal conflict resolution, a more realistic and effective strategy would be to increase the penalties against peacekeeping and armed forces troops who engage with brothels associated with human trafficking. Despite a 2003 special bulletin from the U.N. secretary-general condemning sexual violence by peacekeepers, the practice continues largely due to the structure of the U.N. peacekeeping system that offers impunity to personnel[xiv]. The high demand for peacekeepers allows troops to be donated without proper training provided by their home countries. The U.N. should implement mechanisms for victims to report abuse, establish new requirements for troop-contributing countries, and allow for greater transparency that holds troop-contributing countries responsible for the actions of their peacekeepers.
[i] “Trafficking Harms 30,000 in EU – Most in Sex Trade.” BBC News. N.p., 17 Oct. 2014. Web. 6 June 2016.
[ii] Kligman, Gail, and Stephanie Limoncelli. “Project MUSE – Trafficking Women after Socialism: From, To, and Through Eastern Europe.” Project MUSE – Trafficking Women after Socialism: From, To, and Through Eastern Europe. Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society, 2005. Web. 06 June 2016.
[iii] MacWilliams, Byron. “Forced Into Prostitution.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. N.p., 03 Oct. 2003. Web. 06 June 2016.
[iv] Shelley, Louise I. “Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective.” Cambridge University Press, 2010. Web. 6 June 2016.
[v] Bill, Chappell. “European Union Report Details Growth Of Human Trafficking.” NPR. NPR, 15 Apr. 2013. Web. 06 June 2016.
[vi] Kligman, Gail, and Stephanie Limoncelli. “Project MUSE – Trafficking Women after Socialism: From, To, and Through Eastern Europe.” Project MUSE – Trafficking Women after Socialism: From, To, and Through Eastern Europe. Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society, 2005. Web. 06 June 2016.
[vii] Nikolic-Ristanovic, Vesna. “Sex Trafficking: The Impact of War, Militarism and Globalization in Eastern Europe.” Sex Trafficking: The Impact of War, Militarism and Globalization in Eastern Europe. MPublishing, 2003. Web. 06 June 2016.
[viii] Allred, Keith J. “Peacekeepers and Prostitutes: How Deployed Forces Fuel the Demand for Trafficked Women and New Hope for Stopping It.” The Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights. N.p., 2006. Web. 06 June 2016.
[ix] Macfarquhar, Neil. “Peacekeepers’ Sex Scandals Linger, On Screen and Off.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 Sept. 2011. Web. 16 June 2016.
[x] Bill, Chappell. “European Union Report Details Growth Of Human Trafficking.” NPR. NPR, 15 Apr. 2013. Web. 06 June 2016.
[xi] Bill, Chappell. “European Union Report Details Growth Of Human Trafficking.” NPR. NPR, 15 Apr. 2013. Web. 06 June 2016.
[xii] Dottridge, Mike. “ACTION TO PREVENT CHILD TRAFFICKING IN SOUTH EASTERN EUROPE.” Assessment Report (2016): n. pag. UNICEF. 6 June 2016. Web. 14 June 2016.
[xiii] Sarrica, Fabrizio. “Trafficking in Persons; Analysis on Europe.” Ed. Raggie Johansen. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2009): n. pag. UNODC. Studies and Threat Analysis Section of UNODC, 2009. Web. 14 June 2016.
[xiv] Patrick, Stewart M. “THE DARK SIDE OF U.N. PEACEKEEPERS.” Newsweek. N.p., 8 Aug. 2015. Web. 14 June 2016.