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“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village tomorrow”

“Technology offers the opportunity to take a stand against human trafficking, both nationally and internationally. In tackling human trafficking, the world has become a large village. We are all only a click on the mouse away from each other.” Thus spoke National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence against Children Corinne Dettmeijer-Vermeulen at the Interparliamentary conference Human Trafficking in the Digital Age, referring to the quote from Bill Gates: “The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village tomorrow.”

Advancing digitisation has undeniably impacted human trafficking. On the one hand, opportunities for targeting vulnerable groups have increased. On the other hand, studies reveal that technology is also useful for tracking victims and perpetrators.

Current sentiment calls for a new approach to human trafficking – this entails prostitution, child pornography and lover boys, as well as labour exploitation. This quest for a new mind-set is pivotal at the third interparliamentary conference organised in the context of the Dutch Presidency of the EU. On 14 March approximately forty MPs from different EU Member States discussed the subject together in the Hall of Knights.

A constructive ambience
The conference was opened by Speaker of the House of Representatives Khadija Arib. In her opening address she mentioned the constructive ambience at the conference. “The impact that human trafficking has on people – the victims and their families alike – is enormous. Many experience effects that last throughout their lives and have difficulty recovering that sense of freedom, self-esteem or dignity. I was impressed by what is characteristically Dutch and I think distinguishes your parliament as well, i.e. that in our discussions about the subject we did not dwell on the problems. While we do need to identify them, our task is to focus especially on the way forward and to examining how to change and improve what we do.”

At the conference renowned speakers talked about ways to pursue solutions; they described the opportunities they envisaged for preventing human trafficking, protecting victims and prosecuting perpetrators. The programme was opened by Dutch Minister of Security and Justice Ard van der Steur. In his contribution he called human trafficking one of the worst criminal offences. “That is why Europe must fight it.” He mentioned the three Ps (prevention, prosecution and protection), indicating that we need to team up in this effort. “No country remains unaffected by human trafficking; there is no border that has not been crossed.”

Compelling story from a victim of human trafficking
Henriette Akofa Siliadin, one of the many victims of human trafficking, delivered a compelling and courageous account. At age fourteen she was brought from Togo to Paris. “As soon as the plane took off, I knew something was wrong. I felt my whole life was about to change.” For years she worked day and night. Nothing came of the education she had been promised. She received food only when her work was good. She was not allowed to phone her parents. Nor was she given money for a ticket home. Ultimately, she managed to leave that situation. “I love life,” she concluded. “It is worth living life. Everybody needs the opportunity to make the best of their life, to take control of their destiny. Everybody has a role to play in this world. Everybody has potential.”

Following a short break, the plenary panel on human trafficking resumed, chaired by Arda Gerkens, member of the Dutch Senate and chair of the Political Preparations group. “In this panel we will explore how the Internet influences human trafficking. We need to be aware that governments cannot solve the problems alone. They need help from companies, social media and NGOs.” The participants in the panel were Anna Donovan, who is conducting research within the TRACE project (Trafficking as A Criminal Enterprise), Jean Custers, an expert on human trafficking with the Dutch National Police, and Suzanne Hoff from La Strada International, an NGO network dedicated to preventing human trafficking. Hoff noted that using new technologies to prevent human trafficking should not compromise other rights: “Information is key, but information should not lead to exclusion of persons and denial of rights to certain groups, like the right to travel or migrate. Where technology can support us, we should make use of it, to reach out to larger groups, to inform about human trafficking, labour legislation and vulnerability, and to get more persons involved. This can help us to identify victims, but not without care and concern for the impact on trafficked and other persons’ rights.”

The afternoon programme will address the migration issue.