EU countries are not doing enough to protect children from being exploited by human traffickers, European Parliament member Simon Coveney of Ireland said last week, presenting a report to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The finding came a week after the head of the children’s unit at the Council of Baltic Sea States said children were increasingly at risk in being exploited in what was called a modern-day slave trade.

With Europe’s borders increasingly open, officials said it was becoming easier to move children from one country to another for sexual and other purposes, including forced labour.

Coveney said, “A recent UNICEF report criticised efforts in Europe and in south eastern Europe in particular, to combat the trafficking of children. Between 6,000 and 14,000 children are taken across borders each year, many to be sold into the sex trade.”

Coveney’s report referred to conclusions of the roundtable on EU action against child trafficking and related forms of sexual exploitation, which revealed the seriousness and extent of child trafficking for sexual and economic exploitation (child labour, prostitution, pornography, organ trafficking, drug selling,) as well as for illegal adoption.

“Children are increasingly caught up in the process. Globally, over 5.7 million children work under unacceptable circumstances and an estimated 1.2 million children are victims of trafficking in human beings. At any given time, some 300,000 children are fighting as child soldiers in more than 30 armed conflicts around the world. The EU needs to play a proactive role to speak out against such abuse,” he said.

And, he added, “Children belonging to minorities are particularly vulnerable, because of poor access to education and lack of birth registration. My report encourages all countries including Ireland and other EU member states to sign up to the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.”

Coveney, the EPP-ED Group’s spokesman for human rights, also refered to the granting of temporary residence permits for trafficked women in his report, and said he would like to see the Irish Government considering such permits in the context of proposed immigration and anti-trafficking legislation.