Trafficking in human beings: EU for stronger rules

Trafficking in human beings: EU for stronger rules

With thousands of people becoming victims of human trafficking in the European Union every year, the EU Commission has proposed strengthening the rules that prevent and combat trafficking in human beings.

With the forms of exploitation evolving in recent years, with the crime increasingly taking an online dimension, the EU called for new action as traffickers benefit from opportunities to recruit, control, transport and exploit victims, as well as move profits and reach out to users in the EU and beyond.


The updated rules will include:

  • Forced marriage and illegal adoption among the types of exploitation the definition of the Directive covers. This will require Member States to criminalise such conduct in their national criminal law as human trafficking;
  • Explicit reference to human trafficking offences committed or facilitated through information and communication technologies, including internet and social media;
  • Mandatory sanctions for legal persons held accountable for trafficking offences. This covers excluding them from public benefits or by temporarily or permanently closing the establishments where the trafficking offence occurred;
  • Formal National Referral Mechanisms to improve early identification and referral for assistance and support for victims, which will create the basis for a European Referral Mechanism by the appointment of national focal points;
  • Stepping up demand reduction by making it a criminal offence for people who knowingly use services provided by victims of trafficking;
  • EU-wide annual data collection on trafficking in human beings to be published by Eurostat.


The European Parliament and the Council will now examine the proposal. Once adopted, Member States will have to transpose the new rules into their national law.


Since 2011, the Anti-Trafficking Directive has been the strength of EU efforts in preventing and combatting human trafficking. It provided a legal basis for a robust criminal justice response and high standards of protection and support to victims. However, recent developments call for an update of the current text.

In April 2021, the Commission presented the EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (2021-2025), focusing on preventing the crime, bringing traffickers to justice and protecting and empowering victims. The evaluation and possible review of the Anti-Trafficking Directive in order to make it fit for purpose was one of the key actions of the Strategy. The Strategy on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings is closely linked to the EU Strategy to Tackle Organised Crime.

The EU said that protecting society from organised crime, including tackling trafficking in human beings, is a priority under the EU Security Union Strategy.


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