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Criminal Networks Involved in the Trafficking and Exploitation of Underage Victims in the European Union

Child trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes and a crime against human rights as criminals profit from the abuse of the weakest social category of all – vulnerable children. Globally, approximately 28% of identified victims of trafficking are children. In the EU, the trafficking and exploitation of underage victims occurs both at national level and across multiple Member States.

Criminal networks engaged in child trafficking in Europe comprise EU and non-EU criminals, targeting children suffering domestic, social and economic difficulties, children in migration as well as abandoned children. The members of these criminal networks are spread across multiple countries to organise the abuse of their minor victims and profit from their exploitation. Trafficking minors for sexual exploitation is very profitable, as criminals are aware that clients are ready to pay more for sexual encounters with minors than with adults.

One of the most serious aspects of this phenomenon is the role of the family. Europol receives regular intelligence contributions which detail children who are sold to criminal networks by their parents, as criminals take advantage of families’ poverty. In other cases parents themselves are engaged in trafficking and exploiting their own children.

Most of the cases reported to Europol involve networks escorting their minor victims across the entire route, from recruitment in their country of origin to the place of exploitation. Cases of the recruitment of unaccompanied minors in migration remain under-reported.

The very low number of cases reported to Europol on trafficking and exploitation of unaccompanied migrant children is most unlikely to reflect the true extent of the phenomenon.

Traffickers abuse the innocence of children to manipulate their sense of right and wrong. Their identities are often stolen and used by abusers for criminal purposes (mainly benefit fraud). Victims are often indoctrinated and are subjected to severe levels of psychological and physical trauma, without having the means to understand

what is happening and why. This negatively affects their behaviour as children and will often have an adverse impact in their future adult life.