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Migration and Home Affairs

General information: situation on trafficking in human beings

Human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is still the main form of human trafficking in Germany. Human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation also exists, but to a lesser extent. In isolated cases, criminal proceedings have been conducted concerning human trafficking for the purpose of exploitation by means of forced criminal activity and for the purpose of forced begging.

Looking at the statistics published by the specialised counselling centres for victims of human trafficking over the past few years, it can be seen that in some regions of Germany the number of cases involving victims of human trafficking in the context of migration and flight have risen significantly in line with the increase in the number of refugees in Germany overall. Statistics relating to the time period in which measures were taken to combat the Covid-Pandemic, show an increase in identified victims who are minors.

Human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation

Human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation affects almost exclusively young women, including many minors, who largely originate from Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Nigeria, Vietnam and Thailand.

The internet plays an ever-greater role, both in the recruitment process and as a platform on which to advertise prostitution. The specialised counselling centres (NGOs) have reported a significant increase in victim witnesses who have been lured into prostitution through the “loverboy” method. Contact initiation largely takes place in online chatrooms.

The increasing relocation of prostitution seen throughout Germany to private accommodation and hotels arising from the broad-based communication opportunities offered by the internet is leading to a change in the role of the red - light district and poses new challenges for the criminal prosecution authorities and the counselling centres as well.

Human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation

Human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation mainly involves the building and construction industry, the hospitality trade, farming and the domestic services sector. The victims usually originate from Eastern Europe, mainly Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.

More information can be found in the BKA-Situation Reports on Trafficking in Human Beings:

Institutional, legal and policy framework to address trafficking in human beings

Relevant recent legislation

Act to Improve Action Against Human Trafficking

With the Act to Improve Action Against Human Trafficking and to Amend the Federal Central Criminal Register Act and Book VIII of the Social Code, which entered into force on 15 October 2016, Germany transposed Directive 2011/36EU into national law.

Full text of the relevant regulations in the German Criminal Code (in particular sec. 232 to 233a):

Act on Regulating the Business of Prostitution and Protecting Persons Working in Prostitution

To improve working conditions in legal prostitution and to protect prostitutes against exploitation, forced prostitution and human trafficking, the German Bundestag passed a law on 7 July 2016 to regulate the prostitution trade and protect sex workers (Prostituiertenschutzgesetz - ProstSchG). The “Act on Regulating the Business of Prostitution and Protecting Persons Working in Prostitution” applies throughout Germany to all prostitutes, their clients, and the operators of prostitution establishments. The law provides comprehensive regulations for prostitution in Germany for the first time and entered into force on 1 July 2017. The aim of the law is to create a legislative basis for guaranteeing contractual working conditions, protecting the health of prostitutes, and combatting crime in prostitution, such as human trafficking, violence against and the exploitation of prostitutes, and procuration.

The registration ordinance for prostitutes (Prostitutionsanmeldeverordnung- ProstAV) and the statistics regulation (Prostitutions-Statistikverordnung- ProstStatV) entered into force on 1st of July 2017.

The ProstStatV is the legal basis for setting up the federal statistics to provide valid data on the number of registered prostitutes and brothels for the first time. An intermediate implementation report on the basis of available statistical data was published in 2020.

The Act (ProstSchG) provides that the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ) will evaluate the effects of the Act on a scientific basis five years after its entry into force (starting in 2022), considering the experience of its practical application. An evaluation report must be submitted to Parliament by 2025.

Act on Redefining Residence Rights and Termination of Residency

In its Section 25 (4a), the Act on the Residence, Employment and Integration of Foreigners in the Federal Territory of the Federal Republic of Germany contains a special humanitarian provision on the issuance of a residence permit to, among others, a victim of human trafficking. With the Act on Redefining Residence Rights and Termination of Residency, additional provisions improving residence rights for victims of human trafficking entered into force on 1 August 2015. A permit should be granted if (inter alia) the individual in question shows a willingness to testify as a witness in the criminal proceedings concerning the offence committed against them. In addition, after conclusion of the criminal proceedings against the perpetrators the permit should be prolonged if the foreign individual’s continued presence in Germany is required for humanitarian or personal reasons, or for matters of public interest. With regard to extending the duration of the residence permit, it is no longer reliant on whether the continued presence of the foreign individual is required for the criminal proceedings to commence.

Act to Reform Asset Recovery in Criminal Law

In order to strengthen and streamline the effective confiscation of assets, Germany passed new asset confiscation legislation in 2017 that comprehensively reformed existing provisions. It entered into force on 1 July 2017. Victim compensation has been fundamentally reformed, the new model guarantees consistent and fair compensation for all injured parties while at the same time unburdening courts and prosecutors by moving victim compensation to the stage of enforcement proceedings.

The state is now enabled to confiscate the proceeds from criminal acts even if the victim has an own claim for compensation (e.g. human trafficking or exploitative prostitution). Victims will receive compensation from the confiscated assets in a simple process. The victims of criminal acts must, therefore, no longer exercise their rights in making a claim against the perpetrator, as has been the case previously. Rather, they only have to assert their claim at the stage of enforcement proceedings. Where multiple victims are involved, they are equally compensated. The law provides that victims be informed about their options regarding compensation.

Also, assets of uncertain origin which are secured in criminal proceedings concerning the suspicion of specific serious offences involving terrorism and organised crime, such as commercial and gang-based activities in human trafficking, may also be confiscated if the individual affected by the confiscation cannot be investigated or prosecuted for the offence and the court is convinced that the confiscated assets originated from a criminal act. The court’s conviction that assets have a criminal source can be based on a major disparity between the value of the asset and the lawful income of the individual concerned. Also, the other personal and financial circumstances of the individual whose assets were confiscated may also be relevant.

Crime Victims Compensation Act

With the Crime Victims Compensation Act, Germany has a comprehensive victim compensation system, which recently has been reformed.

From the perspective of victims of human trafficking, the following new elements are particularly important: Under current legislation, entitlement to compensation only applies in the case of a physical act of violence. This is especially problematic in cases of human trafficking where victims are put under pressure in other ways, such as by threatening relatives in their home country. Starting 1 January 2024, not only cases of physical violence, but also psychological violence will be covered, explicitly including all forms of human trafficking. Furthermore, differentiation according to nationality has been completely abandoned. This means that all victims of human trafficking receive the same compensation benefits as German nationals (already in force). Compensation for victims includes benefits for curative care and medical treatment, including rapid access to outpatient trauma care, welfare benefits, care benefits and cash benefits.

Act to Combat Unlawful Employment and Benefit Fraud

By strengthening the German customs administration’s unit for the financial control of undeclared work (known as the “FKS”) as the authority responsible for combating unlawful employment and illegal work through the Act to Combat Unlawful Employment and Benefit Fraud of July 11, 2019, the FKS received additional authorisations to combat exploitative working conditions and trafficking in relation to employment. This allows for a more comprehensive identification of potential victims. To achieve this goal the FKS is intensifying the cooperation with institutions that aim at combatting human trafficking such as counselling services. In addition to that, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), the Federal Ministry of Finance and the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) agreed on a framework agreement that entered into force on July 1, 2021, promoting more intensive cooperation between the FKS and the BMAS-funded Service Centre against Labour Exploitation, Forced Labour and Human Trafficking and the labour counselling centres for foreign employees.

Act to Secure Employees Rights in the Meat Industry among other regulations

On January 1, 2021 the Act to Secure Employees Rights in the Meat Industry among other regulations (Arbeitsschutzkontrollgesetz) came into force. It provides for, for example, the prohibition of the use of contracts for services in the core business of the meat industry and (as of April 2021) temporary agency workers. With the help of a better regulation of accommodation standards and increasing the number of enforcement inspections in companies and businesses employing seasonal and mobile workers better safety and health conditions in the workplace should be created. [These rules will not apply to butchery businesses with up to 49 workers.] In this way, abuse of contracts for services and temporary agency work in the meat industry is prevented, sending also a clear message to other sectors. With this new law (Arbeitsschutzkontrollgesetz) the Federal Government is creating the conditions for better working and housing standards across all sectors. These actions will allow us to ensure good working and living conditions for mobile workers or seasonal workers, ultimately contributing to combatting trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation as well.

Act on Corporate Due Diligence in Supply Chains

The Act on Corporate Due Diligence in Supply Chains (Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz) places the enterprises covered by the scope of application under an obligation to exercise due diligence with regard to human rights and certain environment-related obligations in their supply chains, including obligations to prevent trafficking in human beings. The act is closely aligned with the UN Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights. In order to comply with the due diligence obligations, enterprises must establish an appropriate risk management system. Financial penalties in administrative enforcement proceedings and administrative fines may be imposed to enforce compliance with the Act. The Act was adopted in June 2021 and enters into force on January 1, 2023.

Full text of German laws can be found:

Institutional framework

The Federal Republic of Germany is a federal state with 16 Länder as constituent states. The exercise of sovereign power is divided between the Federal Government and the Länder (state) governments in accordance with the provisions of the German Basic Law.

With regard to human trafficking, the Länder have far-reaching responsibilities. For example, it is noted that as a general rule (i.e. exceptions apart) the criminal prosecution authorities in the individual Länder are responsible for the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking. They are also responsible, in line with the federal structure, for providing general advice and assistance for victims.

Hence, action against trafficking in persons is taken between various Ministries of the Federal government (especially the Foreign Office (AA), Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF), Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ), Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (BMI), Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (BMJV), and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)), the Länder and civil society.

Federal coordination

At the Federal level, each Ministry has a specific focus or thematic area in which they take the lead within the government. BMFSFJ coordinates matters related to combatting trafficking in persons with a European or International dimension. This also includes in most cases representing the Federal Government following inter-ministerial coordination in a European and International context in particular relating to the Council of Europe and its expert group GRETA, the EU Anti - Trafficking Directive 2011/36/EU and the UNTOC protocol against THB and its review mechanism. This role of BMFSFJ does not override the lead responsibility of the other Ministries in each of their thematic areas.

The Federal Government coordinates approaches to combatting human trafficking inter alia in the framework of the various working groups established for this purpose. This includes the Federal Government-Länder Working Group on Combatting Human Trafficking (hosted by BMFSFJ), the Federal Government-Länder Working Group on Human Trafficking for the Purpose of Labour Exploitation (hosted by BMAS) and the National Council Against Sexual Violence Against Children (hosted by BMFSFJ and the Independent Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse Issues). The meetings of all three groups aim to facilitate exchange, cooperation and coordination between the various Ministries involved in combatting trafficking in persons as well as the Länder and civil society actors engaged in this process.

Federal Working Group on Trafficking in Human Beings

The Federal Working Group on Trafficking in Human Beings has performed a co-ordinating role since 1997. The Federal Working Group functions under the chair of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth and meets one to two times a year. It is composed of representatives of relevant federal ministries, the Federal Criminal Police Office, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, one representative each from the technical conferences of Länder ministries of the interior, justice, social affairs and equality, the NGOs KOK and SOLWODI, the Federal Association of Non-statutory Welfare, and the German Institute for Human Rights. The tasks of the working group include the exchange of information on activities, analysis of specific problems in combating human trafficking, development of guidelines and, where appropriate, joint action to resolve the identified problems.

Federal Government-Länder Working Group on Combating Human Trafficking for the Purpose of Labour Exploitation

In addition, a Federal Government-Länder Working Group on Combating Human Trafficking for the Purpose of Labour Exploitation was established at the Federal Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs in 2015 with the aim of developing, improving and enforcing a strategy to combat human trafficking for the purpose of work exploitation. Alongside Federal and Länder ministries, representatives from the Federal Criminal Police Office, the Länder criminal police offices, public prosecutors, the German customs administration’s unit for the financial control of undeclared work (known as the “FKS”), the social partners and non-governmental organisations are all involved.

This Federal Working Group focuses on the following topics:

  • Counselling and assistance for victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation
  • Prevention, awareness-building and public relations regarding human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation.
  • Criminal prosecution of human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation

In 2017, a joint strategy to combat human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation was developed as a living document. It lists the following six strategic objectives: expanding prevention, improving the awareness of authorities and identification of affected persons, expanding advisory and support structures, strengthening law enforcement, improving the data situation and creating public awareness. To implement the strategy the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs funds the Service Centre against Labour Exploitation, Forced Labour and Human Trafficking which is located at „Arbeit und Leben Berlin e.V.“ (DGB Berlin-Brandenburg). The Service Centre supports the development and expansion of nationwide sustainable cooperation structures to prevent human trafficking and forced labour and to improve the prosecution of the perpetrators. In addition, the Service Centre provides trainings in dealing with and identifying of victims of labour exploitation and human trafficking (for more information on the Service Centre, see below).

Working group on Child Trafficking in the National Council Against Sexual Violence Against Children and Adolescents

Since 2019, a working group of the National Council Against Sexual Violence Against Children and Adolescents (hosted by BMFSFJ and the Independent Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse Issues) focuses on the protection of minors from exploitation. In June 2021, the Council published an agreement on goals and measures regard this issue. With regards to child trafficking, focal points of the agreement were the improvement of the identification of underage victims, the protection from exploitation online and accommodations for and assistance of victims.

Consultation process on reforming the federal coordination structures

At the initiative of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth and on the basis of an expert report prepared by the German Institute for Human Rights in 2016, a joint consultation process of the federal ministries was launched to assess the creation of an independent national reporting agency (National Rapporteurs under Article 19 of Directive 2011/36/EU).

Victim support

Violence against women support helpline

The Violence against women support helpline under the number 08000 116 016 provides low-threshold, direct support and counselling to women affected by violence. The Violence against Women helpline is a free, round-the-clock, 18-language, anonymous counselling service. It provides information and can refer callers to appropriate local support agencies as needed. The female helpline counsellors can provide advice on all forms of violence against women, including trafficking. Victims or people wishing to help victims can also consult the website at www.hilfetelefon.de and use the online chat function or email to contact the support helpline. Calls to the support helpline are completely confidential and can be conducted anonymously. The counsellors are also specially trained to advise women with disabilities. Counselling sessions can be held in easy-to-understand language or with the support of sign language interpreting if required.

Non-governmental organisations and other civil society actors

Specialised counselling centres are NGOs registered as associations which offer advice and support to victims of trafficking in human beings. The counselling centres help with the detection and identification of THB victims and support them in many ways. In most Länder co-operation agreements with the police clarify respective roles during the identification process. NGOs also participate in regional round tables. Regarding trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, for example, some NGOs also proactively detect victims of trafficking through outreach work in streets where prostitutes work or by contacting women working in brothels. Moreover, many NGOs are active in training, prevention and awareness-raising initiatives.

The German NGO network and cooperation office against trafficking in human beings (KOK) is an alliance of non-governmental organisations working to combat human trafficking. Specialised counselling centres are members of KOK. Its role is to act as a national and international interface between counselling services, public and policy actors and key international organisations. KOK’s main activities are networking, both between member organisations and with other players, lobbying, education work and knowledge transfer. KOK has been funded by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth since 1999.

Service Centre against labour exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking

The Service Centre against labour exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking was established in fall 2017 and is funded by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

The Service Centre aims to build up and expand co-operation structures amongst stakeholders in Germany, who work in the field of labour exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking. By providing information and raising awareness the Service Centre contributes to achieving a better understanding and consciousness for exploitative working conditions amongst actors on the federal, state and municipal level.

The following activities are on the agenda:

  • Stocktaking and documentation of state-specific regulations and activities
  • Providing trainings on legal frameworks, identification of victims and co-operation with relevant actors
  • Providing information material on labour exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking through an internet-based information platform
  • Promotion of international exchange

Prosecution

Federal and Länder Police Forces

The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) is the central office of the German criminal police and as such the central point of contact for domestic and foreign police and judicial authorities. The BKA facilitates exchanges of information and promotes co-operation in investigative and judicial matters. In exceptional cases, on request from a competent Länder-level authority, the BKA itself may carry out investigations where offenders operate on a trans-regional or international basis, where it is necessary to make investigations abroad or where the Länder units do not have the capacity to handle the matter effectively. Though, criminal investigations, including those concerning trafficking offences, are almost exclusively carried out by Länder police units: either by local criminal police units, or by the criminal police office of the Land.

The BKA provides ongoing training (with two to three training courses per year) for federal and Länder investigators dealing with human trafficking offences and workshops for staff of counselling centres, police officers and representatives of other agencies responsible for victims of human trafficking. In addition, the BKA compiles the annual National Situation Report on Trafficking in Human Beings, which comprises statistics reflecting the outcome of police investigations based on data submitted by the Länder police forces.

Data collection and reporting on the national level

It is one of the core objectives of the current government to further develop and improve structures for combatting human trafficking in Germany. One of the core achievements in this regard is the progress made towards establishing an independent national reporting mechanism:

At the initiative of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ), and on the basis of an expert report prepared by the German Institute for Human Rights (DIMR), a joint consultation process of the federal ministries BMFSFJ, Foreign Office (AA), Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF), Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (BMI) and Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (BMJV) was launched with the aim of considering the creation of an independent national reporting mechanism on trafficking in persons (i.e. a National Rapporteur within the meaning of Article 29, paragraph 4, of the Council of Europe Convention against THB). In January 2020, the Federal Government has picked up on a general consensus that a national reporting mechanism on trafficking in human beings should be created, and the BMFSFJ has contracted the DIMR to produce a concrete plan for national reporting mechanisms that address gender specific violence as well as trafficking in persons, and thereby add to the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. The project aims to provide a detailed plan which describes and contrasts both mandates (i.e. gender-specific violence and human trafficking), identifies tasks, working formats and content priorities. Having completed a first phase of this project, the DIMR recommends two separate reporting mechanisms for the subjects of human trafficking and violence against women and domestic violence as well as further conceptualisation of data collection and reporting on the phenomenon of human trafficking. Until autumn 2022, the DIMR is implementing a planning- and trial phase aimed at finalising the concepts and preparing the implementation for two reporting mechanisms. The Federal Government anticipates that both reporting mechanisms start working end of 2022.

National action plan

In addition to the adoption of the above-mentioned legislative acts, the Federal Government has undertaken several initiatives over the last few years to prevent trafficking in human beings, prosecute traffickers, protect victims, and ensure their access to rights. These include:

The National Cooperation Strategy on Protecting and Supporting Child Victims of Trafficking and Exploitation

In 2017 the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth published the draft of a National Cooperation Strategy on Protecting and Supporting Child Victims of Trafficking and Exploitation, which was jointly developed by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth and ECPAT Deutschland e.V. with input from experts and practitioners, especially KOK, BKA and the International Social Service.

The National Cooperation Strategy is designed as a nation-wide set of recommendations for the development of a new cooperation mechanism or for use in expanding existing Länder-level cooperation mechanisms. It provides a framework for a cooperation mechanism and enables alignment with the prevailing requirements and structures in a given Land. The cooperation strategy contains action-oriented measures and recommendations for organisational and communicative structures which enable ongoing, person-independent cooperation and collaboration at local level. It provides an insight into definition-based distinctions, legal and policy frameworks, looks at all forms of human trafficking for the purpose of exploitation, names potential cooperation partners and provides information on their responsibilities and work processes. The strategy also lists contact data and service points in the various Länder, and illustrates how identification of child victims can be promoted, including through the use of a list of child trafficking indicators.

Cross-border cooperation to address trafficking in human beings

At multilateral level, the Federal Government continues to actively cooperate in all relevant bodies such as the European Union, the Council of Europe, the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS).

Relevant reports

Country reports on Germany of the GRETA-monitoring process of the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings can be found here: https://www.coe.int/en/web/anti-human-trafficking/germany

Relevant links to national authorities and institutions websites, and other relevant contacts

Federal Ministries and other offices

Victim support, NGOs and human rights organisations