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Netherlands: Proposal to Increase Human Trafficking Punishment

(Mar. 8, 2012) On March 1, 2012, the Ministry of Security and Justice of the Netherlands submitted a legislative proposal to the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) of the Dutch Parliament (States-General, Staten-Generaal) to increase the maximum punishment for standard human trafficking offenses to twelve years of imprisonment from the current eight. (Press Release, Ministry of Security and Justice, Maximum Punishment for Human Trafficking to Be Increased (Mar. 1, 2012).)

The proposal also calls for increasing the maximum prison term from three years to four for persons convicted of engaging in the business or practice of employing illegal foreign nationals. It authorizes additional powers to facilitate investigation of this type of offense. According to Minister of Security and Justice Ivo Opstelten, who presented the draft measure, “[i]llegal work often leads to exploitation and has an attractive effect on illegal immigration. Combating human trafficking would be served by an effective approach to illegal employment. After all, human trafficking is often intertwined with illegality.” (Id.)

In addition, the draft legislation makes it a separate offense to hinder air traffic by means of a laser light. Opstelten observed that “increasingly often” there are “incidents during which laser pointers are aimed at aircraft immediately before landing or during takeoff. This can cause extremely dangerous situations.” (Id.)

Opstelten noted that because the criminal activities of “loverboys” fall under the category of human trafficking, they would also be dealt with more harshly if the proposal is adopted. (Id.) Loverboys, typically young men in their 20s, target “insecure, underage girls in schools, coffee-shops, [and] outside care homes, and woo them as 'boyfriends,' promising love, clothes, status and excitement. Then they start to run them as prostitutes, drug-mules and gun-runners, or extort money from them, isolating them from their friends and families.” (Angelique Crisafis, 'Loverboys' Child Prostitution Scandal Back in Dutch Spotlight, THE GUARDIAN (Aug. 17, 2009).)

Current Criminal Code Provisions

Human trafficking is an offense under article 273f of the Dutch Criminal Code. The article sets forth nine types of acts that may constitute the crime of trafficking in human beings, punishable by the maximum eight-year term of imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of €67,000 (about US$88,246). (Article 273f of the Dutch Criminal Code Valid from 1 July 2009 (Non-Official Translation), European Commission Fight Against Trafficking in Human Beings website (last visited Mar. 7, 2012).) Section 1, item 1, makes such a penalty applicable, for example, to anyone who

by force, violence or other act, by the threat of violence or other act, by extortion, fraud, deception or the misuse of authority arising from the actual state of affairs, by the misuse of a vulnerable position or by giving or receiving remuneration or benefits in order to obtain the consent of a person who has control over this other person recruits, transports, moves, accommodates or shelters another person, with the intention of exploiting this other person or removing his or her organs … . (Id.)

Crimes under section 1 are already punishable by a prison term of up to 12 years if committed by two or more persons acting in concert or in respect of persons under sixteen years of age (id. § 3, items (a)&(b)). Moreover, if serious physical injury results from such offenses or the life of another person is threatened, the maximum applicable term of imprisonment is 15 years; if the acts result in death, a prison term of up to 18 years may be applied (id. §§ 4 & 5). As was noted above, the proposed changes would replace the eight-year maximum punishment with 12 years for commission of the basic trafficking offenses set forth under section 1 (i.e., without the aggravated circumstances outlined in sections 3-5 of article 273f).

According to a United States Department of State 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report – Netherlands, the penalties for human trafficking under the Dutch Penal Code were “sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape,” and the report praised [t]he Dutch government for having “continued to aggressively prosecute sex trafficking offenders and [increase] prosecution of labor trafficking cases.” However, it expressed the criticism that “the average sentences imposed on convicted traffickers continued to be less than two years.” (United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report – Netherlands (June 27, 2011).)