EU justice and home affairs ministers today agreed to move fast to enact tough, coordinated legislation, including stiff prison terms, to combat organized criminal trafficking in human beings and child sex slaves.
"At this very moment, somewhere in Europe, there are 15, 16-year-old girls in undercover brothels waiting for the next customer," Swedish Justice Minister Mr Thomas Bodstrom told a press conference.
A European Commission report estimated that some 500,000 women and children are smuggled into the European Union each year, many under pretext of legitimate jobs and residency, to find themselves indentured in prostitution and pornography.
On the second day of an informal meeting, the ministers studied detailed proposals from the European Commission on legislation providing common definitions of such crimes, and harmonised penalities.
"We must assure there are no safe havens, no loopholes for the traffickers, most of whom are members of organized crime rings," said Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Mr Antonio Vitorino.
The "safe havens," he said, are not places, but the variations between different national legislations in the 15 EU states, which give criminals "room to maneuver."
"We must send a clear message to organized crime that these safe havens will be eliminated" by harmonising legislation, both among the 15 members, and the 12 candidate countries currently in negotiations to join the EU.
Mr Vitorino said the commission had proposed penalities for human trafficking ranging up to 10 years in prison, depending on "aggravating circumstances" that included the age of the victim, use of violence, and the profitability of the operation.
The ministers spent much of today dissecting a Commission draft proposal that said a 1997 EU Joint Action Program had utterly failed in its intent to fight human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children, as well as "the worrying issue of child pornopgraphy on the Internet."