Human trafficking in Europe


Trafficking in human beings takes place across Europe. Victims come from countries in Eastern Europe as well as further afield (such as Africa, South America and East Asia). 

At the macro-level, the European Union and the Council of Europe are the organizations in charge of the fight against trafficking in human beings. In addition to the anti-trafficking Directive 2011/36/UE, of the 19th of June 2012, the European Commission adopted the Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings for 2012-2016 followed by the EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (2021-2025) in April 2021. This initiative provides for a comprehensive response to the crime – from preventing the crime, and protecting and empowering victims to bringing traffickers to justice. It focuses on: 

  • reducing demand that fosters trafficking
  • breaking the business model of traffickers through effective operational means against the criminal business model, tackling the culture of impunity by building capacity for a robust criminal justice response, as well as the digital business model of traffickers
  • protecting, supporting and empowering the victims with a specific focus on women and children
  • promoting international cooperation

Since the social political context has changed significantly, following the adoption of the Directive and the Strategy, the Commission proposes a number of priority actions to intensify the EU’s efforts to prevent trafficking in human beings:

  • Comprehensive response to combatting trafficking in human being
  • Reducing demand that fosters trafficking;
  • Breaking the criminal model to halt victims’ exploitation
  • Protecting, supporting and empowering the victims, especially women and children
  • Increase international cooperation 

The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, an international advanced tool for the protection of victims of trafficking. This tool has three main objectives, that include: the implementation of effective measures to prevent the phenomenon, the protection of the rights of victims and the promotion of international cooperation within the fight against criminal networks.



In the EU, more than 7 000 victims of trafficking are registered per year with a large number of victims are subjected to trafficking with the purpose of sexual exploitation (51% in 2022), and labour exploitation (28%) with the remaining 11% falling victim to begging and forced criminality, organ trafficking, forced marriage, illegal adoption and benefit fraud. 

Data presented by the European Commission in 2022 underlines that in 2019-2020, there were over 15 000 individuals suspected of trafficking crimes. But only 6000 were prosecuted and 3000 convicted

The gender aspect in the fight against trafficking in human beings is significant. In 2021, 68.4 % of registered victims of trafficking in human beings in the EU were women or girls (1). The share of women and girls increased slightly from the previous year (67.4 % in 2020) but stayed lower than the 2008-2018 values.Between 2008 and 2010, the number of trafficked women and girls was three times higher than the number of trafficked men as there were 68% of women, 17% of men, 12% of girls and 3% of boys.

OSCE – In 2003 the OSCE Ministerial Council adopted the OSCE Action Plan for combating trafficking in human beings and established the OSCE Anti-Trafficking Mechanism. The OSCE action plan creates a direct link between the political commitments made by participating States since 1975 and the national recommendations in the fields of::

  • PREVENTION of trafficking in human beings;
  • PROTECTION and assistance;
  • investigation, law enforcement and CRIMINAL PROSECUTION.