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Hungary downgraded in annual human trafficking report

Every year, the US State Department releases its Trafficking in Persons report, a massive document ranking governments on their perceived efforts to acknowledge and combat human trafficking. This year, Hungary got downgraded. It’s now on a “watchlist”.

The basis for the report is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which establishes minimum standards on which countries are to be evaluated. Based on the performance of each country evaluated, the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking of Victims then ranks the country. There are three tiers to the ranking method, with Tier 1 being the best and Tier 3 the worst.

For 2017, the Hungarian government’s rank on the report was downgraded one tier, from Tier 2 to the Tier 2 Watchlist — a spot it now shares with countries such as Liberia, Iraq, Rwanda, Guatemala, Djibouti and Haiti.

Highlights from the report

According to the report, despite amending its criminal code to allow for the seizure of assets held by traffickers, conducting training of prosecutors and judicial personnel, cooperating with foreign law enforcement on joint trafficking investigations, and increasing funding for public awareness and anti-trafficking efforts, Hungarian investigations, prosecutions and convictions decreased significantly from the previous reporting period.

Services for victims of human trafficking are scarce, uncoordinated and inadequate, while law enforcement agencies arrested and prosecuted the children exploited in sex trafficking, the report states. According to the report, 88 children – who were victims of trafficking – were penalized by the authorities, including 85 girls and three boys, for prostitution offenses. Forty-two children received a warning, 17 received a fine, 12 received prison sentences, 13 were sentenced to community service work, three were sentenced to confiscation, and there was no information on the penalty of one child.

According to the report, the Hungarian government has consistently failed to implement a 2011 EU directive requiring individuals under 18 years of age involved in prostitution be considered as trafficking victims regardless of consent.

“Shortcomings in security and services at state care institutions for children and in the identification of child trafficking victims remained widespread, resulting in high vulnerability of children and their re-victimization under state protection during and after their time in these facilities,” the report reads.

Citing Hungarian statistical indicators, the report found that the Hungarian government decreased the efforts of law enforcement agencies to combat human trafficking, and law enforcement data remains unreliable, making it difficult to assess efforts of law enforcement agencies to combat trafficking.

The report also notes that observers raised concerns that law enforcement regularly under-reported trafficking offenses.

Anti-trafficking experts have reported that police categorized children between the ages of 14 and 18 as “juveniles” instead of children. Under Hungarian law, this allows the courts to impose punishment for crimes and misdemeanors instead of treating them as victims, particularly in prostitution-related offenses.

The report also found that police generally failed to identify or remained reluctant to investigate certain trafficking cases involving child victims, including vulnerable children in state-run care institutions.

There were no reported investigations, prosecutions or convictions for official complicity, despite some observers having expressed concerns about potential police protection of suspected traffickers.

According to the report, child victims could receive general care through the child protection system, but this system is insufficiently staffed and lacks the resources needed to provide adequate care and security, which in turn leaves the victims vulnerable to being re-trafficked.

Hungary’s Trafficking profile

The report says that Hungary is a source, transit and, to a lesser extent, destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Vulnerable groups include Hungarians in extreme poverty, under-educated young adults, Roma, asylum-seekers and unaccompanied minors, and homeless men.

These victims often are present in particularly higher numbers in countries such as the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Austria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In this report, Turkey, Spain, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Iceland and Sweden were also listed as sex and labor trafficking destination countries for Hungarian women, girls, men and transgender persons.

NGOs have reported a new phenomenon of selling disabled victims for sex trafficking. Hungarians, particularly Romani women and girls and those from state care institutions, are exploited by sex trafficking in large numbers in Austria, by Hungarians of Roma and non-Roma origin. A large number of Hungarian child sex trafficking victims exploited within the country and abroad come from state-provided childcare institutions and correctional facilities, and traffickers recruit them upon leaving these institutes.

US government recognizes Hungarian researcher for her work in this field

Each year, the Department of State honors individuals around the world who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking. These individuals are NGO workers, lawmakers, police and concerned citizens who are committed to ending modern slavery. They are recognized for their tireless efforts – despite resistance, opposition and threats to their lives – to protect victims, punish offenders and raise awareness of ongoing criminal practices in their countries and abroad.

(Left to right) US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Viktória Sebhelyi and Ivanka Trump

In late June, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recognized Hungarian researcher Viktória Sebhelyi as a Trafficking in Persons Report Hero. Sebhelyi is a Hungarian sociologist and human rights activist whose research has been instrumental in increasing awareness and understanding of human trafficking among policymakers and NGO service providers in Hungary. An academic expert on the issue and a dedicated advocate, Sebhelyi has galvanized government and NGO actors to collaborate on enhancing protection for victims.

Benjamin Novak :