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“The human rights of victims of trafficking must govern all efforts to prevent and combat trafficking, and to provide protection, assistance and reparation to victims”

Office of the United High Commissioner for Human Rights

Trafficking in human beings is a violation of human rights and an affront to human dignity and integrity. In order to combat this crime, it is therefore essential to protect victims to enable their reintegration into society. It is therefore necessary for national legislations to ensure that victims of trafficking are treated as such and that their rights are enshrined in accordance with fundamental human rights principles and the special needs of victims, including children.

In this regard, the Palermo Protocol, as well as the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in its third chapter, detail the fundamental rights of victims of trafficking. According to the latter, there are 5 basic principles relating to the protection of victims of trafficking:

  • Non-discrimination
  • Gender equality
  • Minor
  • Unconditional right
  • Privacy

The Convention sets out a minimum list of assistance measures that must be guaranteed by law and must ensure that victims:

  • A standard of living adequate for their subsistence (including adequate and safe housing, psychological and material assistance)
  • Access to emergency medical care
  • Translation and interpretation services
  • Advice and information
  • Assistance in representing their rights in criminal proceedings against traffickers
  • Access to education for children

In addition to these minimum assistance measures, the Convention also cites:

  • The right to economic and social (re)integration
  • The right to compensation
  • The right to a recovery period

According to the principle of non-discrimination, foreign victims have the same rights as domestic victims. But they have specific rights because of their foreign nationality, namely:

  • Granting temporary residence status
  • Right to voluntary return

Regarding minor victims, they also enjoy certain specific rights:

  • In cases of uncertainty about the age of the victim and where there is reason to believe that he or she is a child, he or she is presumed to be a child and specific protection measures are granted pending verification of her age.
  • The Convention recalls that as soon as a child is identified as a victim and is unaccompanied, measures should be taken regarding his or her representation through either legal guardianship, an organization or an authority responsible for acting in accordance with the child’s best interests. The State must also take the necessary measures to establish his identity and nationality and make every effort to trace his family when it is in his best interests.
  • Assistance must be tailored to the specific needs, psychological and psychosocial damage that children may suffer, and include adequate housing, access to education and vocational training, in accordance with the best interests of the child.
  • Caring for child victims involves the establishment of specialized shelters for the reception and assistance of these children, with a view to meeting their needs and providing them with a protected environment. The lack of specialized shelters for trafficked children is a common problem in most States.
  • Child victims should not be repatriated to a State if, following a risk and safety assessment, it appears that return is not in the best interests of the child.

Parties are free to grant additional assistance measures.

The Convention also commits Governments to take all necessary measures to ensure that victims of trafficking are not penalized by the authorities for engaging in unlawful activities when forced to do so (Article 26).

The protection and assistance of victims cannot be complete without strengthening the capacities of the various actors involved in the fight against trafficking such as police, border control and labour inspection personnel, social workers, consular officers, legal professionals such as the judiciary, as well as civil society, and without the necessary resources being made available to the sectors and institutions concerned.

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