A total of 293 of the 332 MPs in Romania’s Chamber of Deputies voted on Thursday in favour of removing the statute of limitations for crimes ranging from human trafficking, forced labour and slavery to rape and the sexual abuse of minors, Romanian news website G4Media reported.
The amendment to the criminal code will now go to President Klaus Iohannis for signing and will make it easier to prosecute perpetrators of offences that are unusually common in Romania by EU standards.
The legislative change coincides with the publication of a report by the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, GRETA, on the situation in Romania.
“Romania remains predominantly a country of origin of victims of trafficking in human beings,” the report says, and urges the authorities to tackle such crimes more efficiently.
The report says that “the number of victims identified by the Romanian authorities has been declining over the years”. Between 2016 and 2019, the period covered by the GRETA evaluation, the total number of victims identified was 2,613, of whom 74 per cent were female and nearly 50 per cent were children.
“Sexual exploitation remained the most common purpose of trafficking… followed by labour exploitation,” the report states.
“Forced begging and forced criminality” come next in the list of most common purposes of trafficking, it adds.
A European Commission report published last October concluded that Romania had the highest rate of human trafficked victims per million inhabitants in the EU, at 74 per million, followed by Hungary, at 64, and Bulgaria, at 40. Most of the victims were women who were subjected to sexual exploitation.
Although far fewer than the number of Romanian victims trafficked to Western Europe, 19 foreign victims of trafficking were identified during the reporting period, originating from Hungary, Italy, Moldova, Portugal, Turkey, Latvia and Germany.
NGOs consulted by GRETA warned about that official statistics are most likely to have been underreported, particularly “the scale of trafficking of foreign nationals” for their exploitation in Romania, which is believed to be “much larger than the limited number of identified foreign victims… suggest”.
In order to counterbalance the exodus of its own workforce, Romania has issued tens of thousands of temporary work permits to foreign nationals, mostly from Asian countries.
“NGOs report cases of persons from Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam being trafficked to Romania by organised crime groups” for their exploitation “in the hospitality, food processing, construction and domestic work sectors”, the GRETA reports says.