Church groups in Europe have welcomed the entry into force of a pan-European convention against human trafficking, and described it as a major step in ensuring the protection of the human rights of trafficked persons in Europe.
"It is encouraging that an essential human rights instrument such as this Council of Europe convention can finally enter into force," says Torsten Moritz of the Churches' Commission for Migrants in Europe.
The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, which groups 47 European countries, drew up the convention that is intended to reinforce the prevention of trafficking by strengthening the prosecution of traffickers, and protecting the human rights and human dignity of the victims.
The CCME said that together with the Conference of European Churches and Caritas Europe, a Roman Catholic group, it had played a key role in getting enough member states of the Council of Europe to ratify the convention in order to allow it to come into force.
The commission for migrants urged the European Union now to ratify the convention, and complained that, to date, EU anti-trafficking measures had concentrated on crime control rather than on helping victims of trafficking.
The Council of Europe said 14 countries have already ratified the convention and called on other member states to do likewise.
"Every year, more than 600 000 people are sold in Europe," said Terry Davis, the secretary general of the Council of Europe. "They are the victims of international criminals. More than 80 percent of them are girls and women, and 70 percent of them are forced into sexual servitude."
Other victims are traded for the purposes of forced labour, illegal adoptions and organ transplants, Davis said in a statement to mark the coming into force of the convention on 1 February.
Among other things, the anti-trafficking convention is intended to prohibit the punishment of victims of trafficking, and requires governments of countries to which people are trafficked to take measures to discourage demand.
The Council of Europe says that this would mean that the relevant authorities should prosecute people who know that they are paying for sex with a victim of human trafficking regardless of the legal status of prostitution in any given country.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]