EU Plans Tougher Measures Against Human Trafficking, Including Surrogacy Ban

Published: 10 October 2023

European Parliament building Brussels

The European Parliament has stated that human trafficking continues to afflict at least 7,000 victims in Europe each year. (Photo: Steven Lek, Wikimedia, License)

By Erika Di Benedetto

European Parliamentarians drafted a law on Thursday aimed at criminalizing illegal adoption, forced marriage, and surrogacy for reproductive exploitation, with the goal of protecting human trafficking victims and dismantling criminal networks profiting from this trade.

Members of the European Parliament also seek to make it a crime to utilize services provided by human trafficking victims, impose penalties on companies found guilty of human trafficking, and increase support for victims, considering factors such as gender, age, and ethnicity.

Part of the draft legislation aims to ensure that victims coerced into committing criminal acts are not prosecuted and receive support, regardless of their cooperation with investigations.

“The current directive has been essential in the fight against human trafficking. Nevertheless, after 12 years, there are challenges and gaps that we need to urgently address so as not to let down victims,” said co-rapporteur for the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, Eugenia Rodríguez Palop.

In 2000, the United Nations adopted a protocol that provided a definition of human trafficking as an international crime. However, the U.N. protocol, while recognizing trafficked individuals as victims, does not grant them immunity from legal actions, including prosecution, detention, deportation, or punishment for offenses committed during their exploitation.

The European Union relies on the 2011 directive as its primary legal tool to combat human trafficking, but it does not cover certain forms of trafficking, such as forced marriage and illegal adoption, which constitute 11% of all human trafficking cases in the EU, as reported by the Council of Europe in June 2023.

The European Network of Migrant Women, an international non-profit organization, emphasized the importance of including the crime of reproductive exploitation in the draft law in 2022 and called on the European Parliament to also address surrogacy.

Reproductive exploitation encompasses various practices, including the prohibition of abortion, forced abortion, coerced pregnancy, the sale of oocytes, and surrogacy.

Surrogacy involves a woman being hired to carry and give birth to one or more children, often for payment, relinquishing her parental rights to allow others to become the legal parents of the newborn.

The draft law received significant support within the European Parliament, garnering 69 votes in favor, with none against and 22 abstentions. After approval by the European Parliament, negotiations with the Council of Europe will begin to shape the final content of the law.