EU nations join forces against sex slavery

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European Governments have closed the legal loopholes that allow criminal gangs who buy and sell women into prostitution and sex slavery to evade prosecution.

In an agreement hailed by campaigners yesterday as a breakthrough after years of negotiation, justice ministers of the 15 European Union member states harmonised their definition of human trafficking and set a common minimum jail sentence of eight years for anyone convicted of the crime.

According to the common definition, a trafficker is anyone who uses "coercion, force and deceit to exploit women and children sexually and in other ways". The agreement, expected to be approved by the EU governments by mid-October, commits member states to coordinate their clampdown on trafficking for the sex industry.

The Belgian Justice Minister, Marc Verwilghen, whose government has the chairmanship of the EU, said: "We have achieved a breakthrough." The agreement would require member states to close legal loopholes exploited by criminal gangs and open the way for much closer judicial and police co-operation.

At present, the lack of a common definition of trafficking means that criminal gangs can operate networks of young prostitutes with relative impunity.