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Questions & Answers: trafficking in human beings in the EU Statistical annexes: Trafficking in human beings in the EU

Reference: MEMO/13/331 Event Date: 15/04/2013 Export pdf PDF word DOC
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European Commission


Brussels, 15 April 2013

Questions & Answers: trafficking in human beings in the EU

What is trafficking in human beings?

Trafficking in Human beings is the slavery of our times.

Victims of trafficking in human beings are often recruited, transported or harboured by force, coercion or fraud in abusive conditions, including sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, domestic servitude or less known forms of exploitation such as for forced begging, criminal activities, or the removal of organs.

Trafficking in human beings is a violation of human rights and a serious crime. Victims often have to provide services seven days a week to pay back impossible amounts of money to their traffickers in exchange for their future freedom – or so they are led to believe. The victims are often deprived of their passports and, in many cases, locked behind closed doors to be let out only for 'work'. Barred from contacting their families, they are threatened by their traffickers and live in fear of retaliation. With virtually no money and deceived by the traffickers to fear the local authorities, the idea of escape becomes unthinkable.

Trafficking does not necessarily involve the crossing of a border, but is predominantly a transnational type of crime, often extending beyond individual Member States. Most traffickers work within well-established networks which allow them to move victims across borders or from one place to another within a country.

What are the root causes of trafficking in Human beings?

Trafficking in human beings evolves with changing socio-economic and (geo) political circumstances. It affects women and men, girls and boys in vulnerable conditions.

It is rooted in vulnerability to poverty, lack of democratic cultures, gender inequality, violence against women, conflict and post-conflict situations, lack of social integration, lack of opportunities and employment, lack of access to education, child labour and discrimination. Other causes of trafficking in human beings include a booming sex industry and the consequent demand for sexual services. At the same time demand for cheap labour and products can also be considered as factors.

What is the situation in the EU?

Data collected from Member States show a gradual increase by 18% in the numbers of identified and presumed victims over the period 2008 to 2010 (breakdown per country in annex 1 below). In the year 2010 only around 9.500 victims were identified in the EU Member States (out of the 880.000 estimated victims of forced labour in the EU - ILO estimates on forced labour in the EU, July 2012).

Women remain by far the largest group of victims over the three reference years (2008-2010). More specifically, women account for 68%, men for 17%, girls for 12% and boys for 3% of the total number of victims of trafficking in human beings (annexes 2.1 and 2.2).

Most of the registered victims are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, around 62% over the three years. Labour exploitation (including forced labour and services, and domestic servitude) accounts for around 25% and the category 'other' around 14% over the three reference years (exploitation for the purpose of forced begging, criminal activities, removal of organs, forced marriages and selling of children are included in this category) – annex 3.1. In more details, victims of sexual exploitation are predominaly female whereas a majority of victims of labour exploitation are male. Females have the largest share of victims in the 'other' forms of exploitation, but at the same time data show a gradual increase in the proportion of male victims across the years (annexes 3.2, 3.3, 3.4).

Even though not all Member States provided data on the citizenship of victims, the information available indicates that a clear majority of the identified and presumed victims, 61% of the victims in the period 2008-2010, come from EU Member States (annex 4). For victims who are EU citizens, high numbers of victims have Bulgarian or Romanian citizenship in each reference year.

While internal trafficking (i.e. EU citizens trafficked within the EU) features high, identified and presumed victims also come from various non-EU countries. Nigeria and China are the main non-EU countries of origin and Brazil, Russia and Algeria also appear in all three years.

As far as traffickers are concerned, the overall figures show a steady decrease of 13% in convictions for trafficking in human beings from 2008 to 2010 (annex 5.1). Trafficking in human beings is often considered to be one of the crimes with relatively larger participation of female criminals compared to other crimes (the number of male convicted traffickers remains close to 75% in each of the three reference years – annex 5.2).

What is the situation at global level?

At the global level, data collection reports have been published by different international organisations, in particular the International Labour Organization (ILO) and United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). These reports show clear trends and perspectives, but specific data is not always comparable.

June 2012 estimates from the International Labour Organisation1 put the number of victims of forced labour, including forced sexual exploitation, at 20.9 million at a global level. 5.5 million of these are children. Such global estimates are even considered to be conservative. An estimated 880,000 people are believed to be in forced labour in the European Union.

The Global Report of UNODC of December 2012 states that between 2007 and 2010, women constituted between 55 and 60 per cent of victims of trafficking in persons detected globally2. The trafficking of children appears to have increased to 27 per cent, compared to 20 per cent in 2003 - 2006. The gender and age profile of victims at the global level are 59% women, 17% girls, 14% men and 10% boys. Worldwide, trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation is more frequent than trafficking for forced labour, although trafficking in persons for forced labour increased from 18% in the years 2003-2006 to 36% in the years 2007-2010.

The different reports show clear trends on trafficking in human beings. The data itself are actually not always comparable due to the nature of the data collected (estimates versus identified and presumed), differences in definitions (forced labour versus trafficking in human beings), perspectives (global versus regions) and differences in methodologies.

What is already being done at EU level?

A major step forward has been the adoption of EU legislation (Directive 2011/36/EU), which focuses on preventing the crime, protecting the victims, prosecuting the traffickers and establishing partnerships, in particular with civil society (IP/11/332).

As a next step to this legislation, the European Commission has proposed concrete measures that complement legislation and the efforts undertaken by governments, international organisations and civil society in the EU and third countries (IP/12/619 and MEMO/12/455). The “EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings” identifies a set of concrete and practical measures to be implemented over 2012-2016.

EU financial support already is and will continue to be one of the main tools in preventing trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims (information on projects can be found on the EU Anti-trafficking website).

What does the EU Directive on trafficking in human beings provide for?

The EU Directive takes a human rights based approach that is gender-specific and centres on the victims and the best interests of the child. It covers actions in different areas such as criminal law provisions, prosecution of offenders, victims' support and victims' rights in criminal proceedings, prevention and monitoring of the implementation.

  1. The criminal law provisions include a common definition of the crime, as well as aggravating circumstances, higher penalties and the principle of non-punishment of the victims for unlawful activities - such the use of false documents - in which they have been involved when subjected to traffickers.

  2. In terms of the prosecution of offenders, the Directive establishes, among others, the possibility to prosecute EU nationals for crimes committed in other countries and to use investigative tools typical for fighting organised crime such as phone tapping and tracing proceeds of crime.

  3. The Directive provides for specific treatment of particularly vulnerable victims aimed at preventing secondary victimisation (no visual contact with the defendant), no questioning on private life, no unnecessary repetition of the testimony, etc). It also provides for police protection of victims, and legal counselling to enable victims to claim compensation. Special protective measures are envisaged for children (such as holding interviews in a friendly environment).

  4. Victims' support includes national mechanisms for early identification and assistance to victims, based on cooperation between law enforcement and civil society organisations, providing victims with shelters, medical and psychological assistance, information and interpretation services. A victim is to be treated as such as soon as there is an indication that she/he has been trafficked. A victim will be provided with assistance before, during and after criminal proceedings.

  5. Prevention aspects cover measures discouraging the demand that fosters trafficking as well as awareness-raising and trainings aimed at the officials likely to come into contact with victims, and potential victims to warn them about the risks of falling prey to traffickers.

  6. Monitoring of the implementation of the measures foreseen by the Directive should be ensured by National Rapporteurs or equivalent mechanisms. These independent bodies should have further tasks including giving advice and addressing recommendations to governments.

What is the state of transposition?

To date six Member States (Czech Republic, Latvia, Finland, Hungary, Poland and Sweden) have notified full transposition of the EU Directive against trafficking in human beings, whose deadline for implementation expired on 6 April. Three MS have notified partial transposition (Belgium, Lithuania and Slovenia).

What is the EU strategy?

With the "EU Strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in Human Beings (2012-2016)" (IP/12/619 and MEMO/12/455), the Commission is focusing on concrete actions that will support and complement the implementation of EU's Anti-Trafficking legislation.

The EU Strategy is a practical instrument addressing the main needs and challenges in the EU from a human rights and gender-specific perspective. It identifies five priorities and outlines a series of initiatives for each of them:

  1. Strengthening the identification, protection and assistance to victims, with a special emphasis on children.

  2. Stepping up the prevention of trafficking in human beings and reducing its demand

  3. Increasing prosecution of traffickers

  4. Enhancing coordination, cooperation and coherence within the EU, with international organisations, and with third countries, including civil society and the private sector

  5. Increasing knowledge of, and effective response to, emerging trends in human trafficking

How can an EU Strategy improve the situation for victims?

Working towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings cannot be achieved without placing the victim at the centre of any actions and initiatives. The strategy identifies concrete initiatives to strengthen the identification, protection and assistance to victims. Today the European Commission presents one of these priority actions of the Strategy: to provide clear, user-friendly information on the labour, social, migrant and compensation rights individuals are entitled to as victims of trafficking in human beings under EU law.

The European Commission will continue working to implement all the other initiatives identified in the Strategy, under each priority, with the help of Member States, NGOs, etc.

What are the EU victims' rights?

The rights of victims of trafficking in human beings range from (emergency) assistance and health care to labour rights, rights regarding access to justice and to a lawyer, residence, as well as possibilities of claiming compensation.

Those rights are based on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, EU Directives, Framework Decisions and European Court of Human Rights case law).

The document presented today provides for a clear overview and accessible information to victims, practitioners and Member States.

Trafficking in human beings beyond numbers

An increasing number of joint investigations are being carried out between Member States, Europol and Eurojust. Here are a few examples:

- Identifying trafficking in human beings.

Last month a joint investigation between the police of Slovakia and Austria led to the arrest of 8 suspects who have been charged for trafficking in human beings, cross border prostitution and extortion in Austria and in Slovakia.

Since 2001, between 50 to 70 Slovakian women between the ages of 18 and 35, were forced into prostitution in a brothel in the village of Innviertel (North-West of Austria). The women were initially promised jobs in Austria, but once arrived in the country, they were forced to work as prostitutes.

The two prime suspects are also charged for the 'sale' of a Polish prostitute. A client fell in love with the Polish woman and wanted to take her out of the sex industry. He was threatened by the suspected traffickers to pay 58.000 euro for her freedom. Not paying the amount would result in the sale of the women to a foreign prostitution network. He eventually paid the money.

- Dismantling criminal networks.

On 12 June 2012, judicial and law enforcement authorities in four countries (France, Bulgaria, Poland and Belgium) successfully conducted a joint operation - supported and coordinated by Eurojust and Europol – to dismantle a criminal network involved in trafficking in human beings.

The investigation started in October 2010. Young women were recruited in Bulgaria for the purpose of sexual exploitation in several European countries, including Belgium and France. Proceeds were collected by procurers, transferred using Western Union orders and invested in Bulgaria.

To tackle this organised crime group more effectively, a Joint Investigation Team co-funded by Eurojust was set up between Bulgaria and France, with the participation of Europol (given the mobility of perpetrators, the involvement of Poland and Belgium became necessary).

During the operations, nine persons in total were arrested. Thirteen house searches were carried out, resulting in the seizure of a large body of documentary evidence and mobile telephones.

For further information


Cecilia Malmström's website

Follow Commissioner Malmström on Twitter

DG Home Affairs website

Follow DG Home Affairs on Twitter

European Commission Anti-trafficking website

News page:




The statistical report on trafficking in human beings:


The victim's rights:


Statistical annexes: Trafficking in human beings in the EU

The following tables are excerpt from the 2013 statistical report carried out by DG Home and Eurostat (covering 2008-2010).

1: Number of identified and presumed victims (total and per 100.000 inhabitants)

2: Identified and presumed victims by gender and age group

2.1: Percentage of identified and presumed victims (2008-2010 period)

2.2: Percentage of identified and presumed victims (per reference year)

3: Identified and presumed victims by form of exploitation and gender

3.1: victims by type of exploitation (% of total number of victims)

3.2: Identified and presumed victims by gender and sexual exploitation (%)

3.3: Identified and presumed victims by gender and labour exploitation (%)

3.4: Identified and presumed victims by gender per other form of exploitation (%)

4: Identified and presumed victims by region of citizenship3

5: Convicted traffickers

5.1: Number of convicted traffickers

5.2: Convicted traffickers by gender (%)

1 :

ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour 2012: Results and Methodology, June 2012.

3 :

Member States were asked to provide data on the top 10 countries per citizenship of victims.