LONDON – The Church of England's second highest-ranking cleric said he is "stunned" by the U.K. coalition government's decision not to support a European Union directive to combat sex trafficking.
The directive, which lays down a common definition of trafficking, aims to harness Europe-wide efforts against the trade of men, women and children for the sex industry. Supporters say it will make the prosecution of suspected traffickers easier.
Although the directive will be decided upon according to qualified majority voting within the EU, Britain is free to choose whether it wants to "opt in" or not.
"I am therefore stunned to learn that the Government are 'opting out' of an EU directive designed to tackle sex trafficking,"remarked Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu.
Writing in the Yorkshire Post this past weekend, the CofE cleric said trafficking was an EU-wide problem that required "tough cross-border solutions."
"Sex trafficking is nothing more than modern day slavery," he said. "This is women being exploited, degraded and subjected to horrific risks solely for the gratification and economic greed of others."
While York said he is generally not a great supporter of European directives because of the supremacy of the Parliament, he said the sex trafficking directive "seems to be a common-sense directive designed to co-ordinate European efforts to combat the trade in sex slaves."
The archbishop noted how hundreds of thousands of people are trafficked into the EU or within the EU each year, with many of them coming through Bulgaria and Romania.
"What we need are tough cross-border solutions to international problems," he said.
"We need to join with our European brothers and sisters and put an end to this evil trade."
The British Home Office said last week that the government would review the United Kingdom's position once the directive had been agreed. A Home Office spokeswoman claimed that the United Kingdom was already complying with "most of what is required" by the directive and that opting out would prevent the United Kingdom from being "bound by measures that are against our interests."
Sentamu, in response, urged the government not to sit on the sidelines but be a part of discussions on the draft directive before it went to vote, saying that its input could help improve the situation.
"At a time when fewer traffickers are being jailed than at any other time in the last 5 years, we need solutions quickly," the archbishop stated.
"We need to protect and support victims and make it easier to tackle the traffickers, no matter where they live or which international boundaries they hide behind."
A report from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) stated that around 2,600 women had been trafficked into England and Wales and forced to work as prostitutes, while a further 9,200 were suspected trafficking victims.
The report said that around 17,000 of the estimated 30,000 women involved in the off-street sex trade in Britain are migrants, with half of these hailing from Europe, particularly Eastern European countries.
"We need ambitious and binding legislation to make anti-trafficking policy more effective," Sentamu concluded.
"Our Government should be ensuring Britain leads the way on tackling slavery, just like it did in the days of William Wilberforce. We need a united front against the traffickers, pimps and gangsters – and speak out for those that don't have a voice," he added.
"I hope that the Government will recognize this and reconsider their decision to opt out over this vital directive."