In 2020, the number of registered victims of trafficking in human beings in the EU was 6 534 (-16% compared with 2019). Meanwhile, there were 7 290 suspected traffickers (-8% compared with 2019, but a relatively high figure compared with 2008-2018). There were also 1 295 convicted traffickers in 2020 (-25% compared with 2019), yet the figure of convicted people is still much lower than the number of those suspected of trafficking in human beings (see Figure 1). The effects resulting from the lockdowns to curb COVID-19 should be also taken into account when interpreting the trends. 

This information comes from data on trafficking in human beings published by Eurostat today, which are unadjusted and published as they are reported by the EU Member States. The article presents a handful of findings from the more detailed Statistics Explained article


Figure 1

Line graph: People involved in trafficking in human beings by legal status, number of people, 2008-2020

Source dataset: crim_thb_sex


Nearly two-thirds of registered victims of human trafficking were women or girls in 2020 (64%). The share of women and girls increased slightly from the previous year (63% in 2019), but remained lower than 2017-2018 values. Meanwhile, only around a quarter of suspected traffickers and convicted ones were female (24% and 26%, respectively). 


Figure 2

Bar chart: Registered victims of trafficking in human beings by form of exploitation, %, 2008-2020

Source dataset: crim_thb_vexp


More than half (55%) of human trafficking victims were sexually exploited (see Figure 2). This was the predominant form of exploitation, although it reached its lowest prevalence since 2008. Meanwhile, exploitation by forced labour increased to one-third (33%) and reached its highest value since 2008. 

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Methodological notes: 

  • Trafficking in human beings, as it is defined in the art. 2 of the Directive 2011/36/EU is a grave violation of human rights, a crime against the person, the goal of which is the exploitation of the person. Trafficking does not require the crossing of borders and can have many exploitative purposes.
  • The number of persons reported to be involved in trafficking in human beings can widely vary across the EU, even relative to population size, due to different approaches to reporting data in police, prosecutors and court systems, to different levels of transposition of the Directive across the EU Member States and different criminal justice responses to trafficking in human beings. 
  • Registered victims include persons who have been identified by the relevant formal authority or by other national and non-national authorities.
  • Data on victims, suspected traffickers and convicted traffickers show totals for responding countries. As some EU Member States had not reported data for some years, the observed trend has to be interpreted with caution.
  • Data on suspected traffickers: 
    • Netherlands, Ireland, Estonia and Sweden: 2020 data not available.
    • Estonia and Sweden: 2019 data not available. 
  • Data on convicted traffickers: 
    • Belgium and Italy: 2020 data not available. 
    • Italy: 2019 data not available. 


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