At the Women’s Rights and Equality Committee of the European Parliament on 2 December, Myria Vassiliadou, the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, gave a report on the progress made since her post was created by the Commission four years ago. The MEPs asked her a wealth of questions, but due to the need to hear from several speakers, she only had five minutes to respond.
In her opening remarks, Vassiliadou acknowledged that the EU parliament had been a “constant ally” despite the difficulties tackling a question that has complex ramifications and no easy solutions. The legal obligations for the EU to oppose human trafficking are unambiguous, given that it is the only action that is explicitly criminalized in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The statistics discussed were horrifying: 30,000 people in Europe were registered as having been trafficked in 2010 alone. As trafficking is a crime that is by definition underground and unregulated, the real numbers are likely higher. As I write, potentially 100,000 people could be kept in a form of modern day slavery in the most free and democratic societies in the world. Vassiliadou reminded the Committee that the victims of human trafficking are not faceless. They could be the children begging in the street, the people shut away in houses for domestic servitude, the women and even children forced to work in Parisian, Milanese, or London brothels.
Vassiliadou reminded everyone that as they met and discussed the situation, there were women and girls being raped and used and feeling abandoned throughout Europe. Her remarks remind us not to fall into the trap of thinking of these people as statistics, as numbers on screens and paper, but as real human beings experiencing great suffering. Her talk was laudable because she advocated a person-centered approach to tackling the scourge of human trafficking, and at several times noted the importance of NGOs for bringing vital information and questions born of experience to the debate.
Vassiliadou’s passion and integrity are as indisputable as they are commendable, but one practice of human trafficking was completely omitted from this hearing: the commodification of women and children through surrogacy. Vassiliadou was either unwilling or unable to respond to a question from the Croatian MEP Marijana Petir on the practice of buying and selling children for adoption, and their mothers’ bodies for gestation, in the wealthier nations of Europe. Like the other forms of human trafficking, it is trans-national. Like the other forms of human trafficking, the motive for the transaction is profit. Like all forms of human trafficking, it is an offense against the dignity of the person through its commodification of children’s lives, women, and parenthood.
For more information on human trafficking, see the U.N. Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.