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Preventing and combating trafficking in human beings



Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims


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:
    • sexual exploitation or prostitution;
    • 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 has applied since 15 April 2011. It had to become law in the EU countries 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:


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 (OJ L 101, 15.4.2011, pp. 1-11)

last update 25.07.2018