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A haven for traffickers?

Ranya Breuer / ai
April 6, 2013

The EU is pushing for more action against human trafficking and better protection for the victims. But Germany has missed the EU's deadline to implement new rules. Critics say Germany needs to step up its game.

Prostitutes (photo: ANOEK DE GROOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: AFP/Getty Images

Germanyis often among the frontrunners when it comes to calling for the rule of law to be upheld. Yet it seems that sometimes, even the apparent poster boy doesn't abide by the rules himself - for instance when it comes to fighting human trafficking. UNICEF and child protection organization ECPAT criticize that Berlin is dragging its heels on the implementation of an EU guideline to combat trafficking.

For two years, the EU has been pushing for tougher sentences and better protection for the victims. The deadline to implement EU regulations into national law was April 5 – but Germany failed to meet that deadline.

NGOs criticize German government

Germanyis still debating how exactly to go about this. "The draft by the justice minister accounts for an exact implementation of the guideline," a spokesperson of the ministry said.

But the domestic policy spokesman of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives in parliament, Hans-Peter Uhl, doesn't exactly agree. "The Justice Ministry [held by the Conservative's junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats] simply plans to extend existing jurisdiction to include cases like human trafficking for instance for the purpose of begging, or with the intention of exploitation for pick-pocketing or organ trafficking." Uhl says plans don't go far enough since there is no plan to include human trafficking with the intention of sexual exploitation.

Romanian children (photo: UNICEF/Tarneden)
Many victims are underageImage: UNICEF/Tarneden

NGOs also criticize the new legislation would still be too lax. "If for instance an underage girl is brought from Romania to Germany and forced into prostitution, then this qualifies as sexual abuse and exploitation but not as human trafficking. And the latter would be punished more severely under German law," explains Rudi Tarneden of UNICEF Germany.

It would be almost impossible in Germany to convict someone for human trafficking because of forced prostitution, says Uhl. The reason is that according to German law, the burden of proof lies with the victim. Often though the victims refuse to testify - for fear of revenge. "And if a victim does testify, they often withdraw their statements because they're being blackmailed," Uhl explains.

Blaming the victims instead

According to estimates of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), between 120,000 and 500,000 women from Central and Eastern Europe alone are brought to the western part of the continent by human traffickers, who force them into prostitution. Many of the victims are underage.

The EU guideline calls for special protection measures for children. "Children are more vulnerable and therefore at greater risk of falling victim to trafficking in human beings," the guideline states.

Rudi Tarneden (photo: UNICEF)
Tarneden says victims need better protectionImage: UNICEF/Dirk Gebhardt

But Germany in particular offers them very little support. "These are teenagers that are brought to Germany and are forced to work in the field of prostitution or in other fields. If they get picked up by the authorities, the focus is not on them being the victims of someone else's crime but that they themselves have broken the law - by being in Germany illegally," says Tarneden.

Tough immigration laws

According to Tarneden, it's a matter of speculation as to why Germany is so slow in implementing the EU regulation, adding that it was a known fact that Germany is tough in pursuing illegal immigrants. "Maybe there is concern that protecting the victims might be misused to weaken Germany's immigration laws," he says, but points out that UNICEF believes protecting the victims must take priority.

Parliamentarian Uhl doesn't believe the EU guidelines will be implemented quickly. "We'll have to postpone that issue until after the election in September." Even though Germany could be made to answer at the European Court as to why it missed the deadline, Uhl believes the issue is unlikely to become a concern for the Justice Ministry.

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