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Summaries of EU Legislation

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Preventing and combating trafficking in human beings

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Preventing and combating trafficking in human beings

Trafficking in human beings is considered one of the most serious crimes worldwide. It is a serious violation of human rights. This directive establishes rules across the European Union to address this horrible phenomenon.


Directive 2011/36/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 April 2011 on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA.



It lays down minimum common rules for determining offences of trafficking in human beings and punishing offenders. It also provides for measures to better prevent this phenomenon and to strengthen the protection of victims.



  • The following intentional acts are punishable: the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or reception of persons by force for the purpose of exploitation.
  • Exploitation includes as a minimum: (i) sexual exploitation or prostitution; (ii) forced labour or services (including begging, slavery, exploitation of criminal activities, or the removal of organs).

Sanctions: the directive sets the maximum penalty for these offences at at least 5 years’ imprisonment and at least 10 years in the case of aggravating circumstances, for example if the offence was committed against particularly vulnerable victims (such as children) or if it was committed by a criminal organisation.

Prosecutions: EU countries can prosecute their nationals for offences committed in another EU country and make use of investigative tools such as wiretapping (of, for example telephone conversations or emails).

Support for victims: victims receive assistance before, during and after criminal proceedings so that they can exercise the rights conferred on them under the status of victims in criminal proceedings. This assistance may consist of the reception in shelters, or the provision of medical and psychological assistance and information services and interpretation.

Children and teenagers (under 18) enjoy additional measures such as physical and psychosocial support, access to education and, where applicable, the possibility to appoint a guardian or representative. They should be interviewed immediately in suitable premises and by skilled professionals.

Victims have the right to police protection and legal assistance to enable them to claim compensation.

Prevention: EU countries must take steps to:

  • discourage the demand that encourages trafficking,
  • launch awareness campaigns and training for officials enabling them to identify and deal with victims and potential victims of trafficking.

An EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator has been appointed to ensure a consistent and coordinated approach in addressing this phenomenon.

To help national authorities to control the abuse of the right to free movement, the Commission has published a handbook on marriages of convenience between EU citizens and non-EU nationals. Some forced marriages, for example, may involve aspects of trafficking in human beings.


The directive came into force on 15 April 2011 and was to be transposed into EU countries’ national laws by 6 April 2013.


Trafficking in human beings is expressly prohibited by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (Article 5) and the EU has established a comprehensive legal and policy framework to address this phenomenon, in particular by means of this directive (2011/36/EU) and the EU Strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings 2012-2016.

For more information, see Together Against Trafficking policy and legislation websites, Eurostat’s 2015 publication on the subject and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights 2014 publication.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2011/36/EU



OJ L 101, 15.4.2011, pp. 1-11


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: The EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012-2016 (COM(2012) 286 final of 19 June 2012).

EU plan on best practices, standards and procedures for combating and preventing trafficking in human beings (OJ C 311, 9.12.2005, pp. 1-12).

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: Helping national authorities fight abuses of the right to free movement: Handbook on addressing the issue of alleged marriages of convenience between EU citizens and non-EU nationals in the context of EU law on free movement of EU citizens (COM(2014) 604 final of 26 September 2014).

Commission staff working document - Mid-term report on the implementation of the EU strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings (SWD(2014) 318 final of 17 October 2014).

last update 03.03.2015