RIGA - Every year, thousands of women, children and men are trafficked for sexual exploitation or other purposes. And since European Union accession has opened borders and eased working requirements, the Baltic states have seen this phenomenon reach an unprecedented level of complexity.
In an effort to combat this underground slave trade, the Council of Europe has organized a regional seminar, "The Campaign to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings," in Riga on Sept. 21-22.
"Since joining the EU, it's been increasingly difficult for [Latvian] police to track down and prosecute sex traffickers, and the crime has developed to get around new legislation," Helena Stare from the International Migration Organization's Riga office said (see interview on Page 14). "That's why holding this seminar is so important right now."
Human trafficking is an international problem, and is anything but slowing in Europe. The Council of Europe's 46 member states include countries of origin, transit and destination for victims of trafficking. This is why, in 2006, the Council took the initiative to launch a European-wide campaign against the underground crime.
The program aims to raise awareness among governments, parliamentarians, NGOs and civil society about the ubiquitous yet elusive state of trafficking today.
"The problem of human trafficking in Latvia has been acknowledged on the highest political and administrative level," said Laura Karnite, who represents the Interior Ministry, which is co-organizing the Riga seminar.
Karnite emphasized that the Riga seminar would take this initiative even further, proposing preventive measures against trafficking, as well as rehabilitation services for victims. But mostly, the seminar hopes to unite the efforts of regional governments, NGOs and society against this world-wide crime, she said.
"Latvia's legislation against human trafficking is one of the most progressive and complete in Europe and can serve as an example for other countries," Karnite pointed out.
A similar conference under the same program was held in Bucharest last April, and led to a number of anti-trafficking programs, according to the Council of Europe Web Site.
The Council of Europe campaign also aims to promote the widest possible signature and ratification of the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, so the legislation can swiftly enter into force.