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EU states fail to stop child trade

EUROPEAN Union countries are failing to protect vulnerable children from being trafficked for sexual and labor exploitation or organ extraction, and must step up efforts to fight it, an EU agency said yesterday.

Morten Kjaerum, director of the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency, said an unknown number of children are traded within the 27-nation bloc in what he described as "part of the modern slave trade."

"Little is done" within EU countries to protect children held in asylum shelters from being exploited and taken by criminal gangs active in trafficking, he said.

"The protection of every child is a duty for all states," Kjaerum said. "We have both a moral and legal obligation to protect children."

The agency's 159-page report said the EU needs to develop a standard definition of child trafficking, bolster enforcement of existing laws and improve care for victims.

EU countries are mulling new proposals presented by Jacques Barrot, the EU's justice commissioner, in March, which would allow police to use phone taps to hunt down culprits and to better protect the victims of trafficking, most of whom are forced into prostitution.

He is also urging member states to offer victims healthcare, housing and residency rights in exchange for information on human trafficking rings.

Kjaerum said existing measures were not enough to tackle child trafficking.

"Without improvements in the identification of victims and the conviction of perpetrators, laws designed to prevent child trafficking and protect victims will continue to exist only on paper," he said.

The report said child trafficking statistics for Europe are hard to come by, and several member states either deny it occurs in their country or reported numbers far below the projected level.

The European Commission says "several hundred thousand" people are trafficked into the EU or within the bloc each year.

EU spokesman Michele Cercone said child trafficking is "one of the priorities" of the EU executive which has recently increased efforts to coordinate a Europe-wide crackdown against trafficking gangs.


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