BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Thousands of people are falling victim to human traffickers every year in the European Union but most member states have failed to implement tougher new laws agreed by the bloc to address the problem, the European Commission said on Monday.
The new laws, agreed in 2011, impose higher penalties on offenders, make it easier to prosecute across borders within the bloc and give better protection to victims.
Only six countries in the 27-member bloc have implemented the new legislation so far, the Commission said.
Trafficking victims are typically women and they are predominantly forced into sexual slavery, but also hard labor and criminal activity. Some have their organs removed.
Information released by the EU executive on Monday showed the number of identified trafficking victims increased by 18 percent between 2008 and 2010 to about 10,000, although that number likely represents a fraction of all victims.
“What we know is probably only the tip of the iceberg,” said Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU commissioner for home affairs.
“I am very disappointed to see that, despite these alarming trends, only a few countries have implemented the anti-trafficking legislation and I urge those who have not yet done so to respect their obligations.”
Most of the victims identified were citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, the two poorest members of the bloc. Neither country has implemented the new laws.
EU governments which do not implement common rules can face legal action and fines.
An estimated nearly 21 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, according to 2012 statistics from the International Labor Organization.
Reporting By Teddy Nykiel; Editing by Pravin Char