Trafficking in human beings


Globally, trafficking in human beings is serious violation of human rights and abuse of human dignity. As a form of organized crime it undermines the basic principles of the lawful order and democratic standards in society. The transnational character of the phenomenon demands the joint efforts of all relevant institutions an a national, regional and international level.

Trafficking in human beings is defined as modern slavery and is a serious crime, connected to the exploitation of people, which are treated as commodities for sale. Trafficking in human beings is an exceptionally lucrative business for traffickers, with profits reaching up to 31 billion euro per year[1]. For victims, trafficking is always accompanied with violence, control, coercion, and false promises. For the larger part of our society, this issue seems distant and imaginary, but the truth is that this is one of the great risks globally today.

Trafficking in human beings is a phenomenon that affects Bulgaria, which is predominantly a country of origin for victims of trafficking, and also a transit country due to its geographical location. Its strategic location makes the country especially vulnerable in regards to illegal channels not only for trafficking in human beings but also for immigrants, which try to illegally cross state borders.

„With the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact the greatest threat to the security and defense of Western Europe since the end of the Second World War ceases to exist. The focus is shifted from the defense of the territory of various states from military invasion towards non-territorial security threats – terrorism, trafficking in human beings, drugs, weapons, organized crime. Along with the economy, politics and the social sphere, the enlarged concept of security within the borders of the EU includes non-traditional issues of illegal migration“ [2] and trafficking in human beings“.

The accession of Bulgaria in the European Union in January 2007 left the country facing new challenges, including the larger inflow of immigrants and asylum-seekers, and defined the real threat of the country becoming a final destination for legal and illegal immigrants and victims of trafficking.

Close to 160 countries admitted officially in 2008 that trafficking in human beings is a real issue to them, with 116 of them already having criminalized it in one way or another in their legislation.

[1] Source: The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT)

[2] Simeonova, Denislava. „Migration and internal security. Challenges before the migration policies of the European Union and Bulgaria“, 2004, p.5

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Trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation:

The definition of the within the 2005 Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and Trafficking Directive 2011/36/EU state that exploitation includes „as a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation …“. In light of these guidelines, it is necessary to have the three main elements of the definition of the Convention: action, means and purpose (for adults). National Legislation may differ from the text of the Convention, especially as regards the need to prove whether some of the means (delusion, fraud, coercion) have been used to identify a case of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Trafficking in human beings for the purpose of labour exploitation: 

According to Directive 2011/36/EU, exploitation „shall include … forced labour or services, including begging, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude …“.

According to the 1930 ILO Convention on Forced Labour (No 29), forced labour is defined as „all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily“.

The phrase „all work or service“ indicates that the proibition of forced labour refers to all types of work, services and/or employment, irrespective of the industry or occupation practiced and regardless of whether the practice is legal and formal or illegal and informal in nature. It also applies to all human beings, regardless of their age, gender, background or legal status in the country where they are engaged in forced labour.

Trafficking of children for the purpose of begging, pickpocketing and other illegal activities: 

Paragraph 11 of the Preamble of Directive 2011/36/EU of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union addresses this issue. In this respect, the Directive has adopted a broader interpretation of the concept of trafficking in human beings in this context, which reads: „… forced begging should be understood as a form of forced labour or services as defined in the 1930 ILO Convention No 29 concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour“. It is further added that „‘exploitation of criminal activities’ should be understood as the exploitation of a person to commit, inter alia, pick-pocketing, shoplifting, drug trafficking and other similar activities which are subject to penalties and imply financial gain.“ It should also be noted that, as regards the Directive, it also provides as follows: „the exploitation of begging, including the use of a trafficked dependent person for begging, falls within the scope of the definition of trafficking in human beings only when all the elements of forced labour or services occur. In the light of the relevant case-law, the validity of any possible consent to perform such labour or services should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. However, when a child is concerned, no possible consent should ever be considered valid.“ As far as criminal activities are concerned, the exploitation of a person to perform such activities is defined as a crime.

Other forms of trafficking include:
- Trafficking of pregnant women for the purpose of selling their newborns
- Trafficking in human beings for the sale of bodily organs, tissues, ova


National strategy 2017-2021.

Trafficking in human beings is a serious crime against the individual, often committed in the framework of organised crime, and is considered a gross violation of fundamental human rights, explicitly prohibited by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Under the Bulgarian Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Act (2003), trafficking of persons is defined as „the recruitment, transportation, transfer, concealment or acceptance of human beings, regardless of their own will (…) for the purpose of exploitation“. The current National Strategy for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings 2017-2021 is a major policy document that sets out the priorities and objectives related to the effective and long-term response both to the crime itself and its consequences.It’s goals and priorities are in line with both those outlined in the EU Strategy on the Elimination of Human Trafficking 2012-2016 and the objectives and priorities outlined in the overall European legislation.

In the long-term, the National Strategy aims to create a comprehensive human trafficking policy that regulates the type and system of measures to achieve operational, effective and efficient interaction and coordination at both a horizontal and vertical level between all agencies, institutions and organisations, including the civilian sector, involved in working on this issue. As such, the National Strategy outlines leading challenges; key principles; national priorities, objectives and measures to combat trafficking in human beings; as well as implementation and monitoring strategies.

The main challenges faced in the effort to combat the trafficking of human beings, and as outlined in the National Strategy include:
– Challenges related to the dynamic profile of victims of trafficking, their timely identification (formal & informal), and the provision of comprehensive and relevant assistance and support to their needs;
– Challenges related to enhancing the efficiency, effectiveness and scope of prevention activities and practices at an instituional and interinstitutional level, aimed at preventing trafficking and re-trafficking of persons;
– Challenges related to the knowledge of the crime of trafficking of persons and conducting effective, yet victim-friendly, investigations, prosecution and punishment;
– Challenges related to the migration crisis.

– Legality & maintaining the rule of law in observing fundamental human rights;
– Relevanceeffectiveness, and efficiency in measures;
– Partnership, interaction, and the sharing of responsibility between all stakeholders;
– Sustainability of the achieved goals and their long-term impact;
– Transparency & accountability;
– Non-discrimination and equality between all victims.

– Active community prevention with a focus on vulnerable groups;
– Enhanced identification, protection, assistance and support to victims of trafficking, regardless of their ethnic, national, religious and/or gender affiliations;
– Effective prosecution and punishment of the crime of trafficking in human beings;
– Enhanced inter-ministerial and international coordination and cooperation;
– Immediate, competent and responsive action to the needs of the children victims of trafficking.

– Formulate effective mechanisms for countering trafficking in human beings, which are based on the analysis of actual and empirical evidence of the crime;
– Preventing trafficking both at the individual level and at the level of family, social group, and society;
– Creating trust in citizens, society, institutions and organisations (including NGOs) working on the issue, and stimulating civic activity in countering the trafficking of persons;
– Strenghtening the legal and institutional mechanisms for the effective and efficient prosecution and conviction of organisors, perpetrators and collaborators of the crime;
– Effective prosecution and punishment through the use of EU mechanisms and structures for international judicial and law enforcement cooperation;
– Ensuring timely and tailored to the individual needs of victims of trafficking, and providing support and protection;
– Ensuring the possibility of subsequent reintegration and full social funcioning of the victims;
– Creating a system of procedures guaranteeing the identification, assistance and support of victims.

To a large extent, the measures to be achieved are directly linked to the challenges faced, and therefore include matters such as measures to effectively identify victims, directly counter trafficking through cooperation on an institutional and interinstitutional level, and victim-friendly investigations and prosecution of the crime.

The implementation of the National Strategy is carried out through the annual National Anti-Trafficking and Protection Program, which has been developed on the basis of the key priorities and objectives of the Strategy and offers solutions for the implementation of the planned measures, taking into account new realities and trends in the human trafficking offense. The annual program is prepared by the Secretariat of the NCCTHB with the Secretariat Permanent Working Group at expert level, and is adopted at a meeting of the NCCTHB followed by approval by the Council of Ministers. Through its administration, the NCCTHB periodically reports to various European and international units/committees on the anti-trafficking policy, strategic and operational activities implemented by the Republic of Bulgaria.

The purpose of monitoring is to provide key information on the progress made by the competent authorities responsible for the implementation and monitoring of relevant policies. Periodic monitoring of the implementation of the National Strategy is carried out by the Secretariat of the NCCTHB and the established Permanent Working Group of experts. The final evaluation includes the following elements:
1. Indicators for strategy purposes
1.1 Significance of objectives
1.2 Goal effectiveness
2. Indicators of measures
2.1 Efficiency of the measures
2.2 Impact of the measures
2.3 Resistance to measures
3. Lessons learned
3.1 Risk management recommendations
3.2 Recommendations for effective and sustainable implementation of the Strategy
3.3 Recommendations for future goals and measures

The full text of the National Anti-Trafficking Strategy 2017-2021 can be downloaded in Bulgarian with the link below:

Пълния текст на Националната стратегия за борба с трафика на хора 2017-2021, можете да свалите от тук.


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National Mechanism for Referral and Support

The National Mechanism for Referral and Support of Trafficked Persons is the collaborative framework through which institutions carry out their obligations to care for victims by coordinating their efforts in strategic partnerships with NGOs, international organizations, and civil society.

According to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, through its Secretary and Administration, is the coordinator of the Mechanism.

The main objectives of the Mechanism are to ensure the human rights of victims of trafficking in the provision of effective care and referral of victims to appropriate services. The basic principles of working with victims of trafficking are described, including unconditional support, safety and security, confidentiality and protection of personal information, and non-discriminatory treatment. The mechanism describes standard operating procedures for the identification, referral, protection, assistance, and social inclusion of victims of the crime.

On the 20th of July 2016, the Government approved the National Mechanism for Referral and Support of Trafficked Persons. The validation is important for the formal adoption of the Mechanism and its implementation in the coordination of trafficking cases. It will also raise the awareness of officials working on trafficking-related issues and involved in victim identification and referral, as following its adoption, the NCCTHB administration will include in the National Anti-Trafficking and Victim Protection Programme annual training activities for stakeholders involved in the Mechanism at national and local levels.

The full version of the National Mechanism for Referral and Support of Trafficked Persons can be found here: NRM_Bulgaria_EN

Transnational Mechanism

„Guidelines for the Development of a Transnational Referral Mechanism for Trafficked Persons in Europe: TRM-EU“ download at:


Also available on the website of the International Center for the Development of Migration Policies (ICMPD):


Contacts for Targeting and Supporting Victims of Trafficking in Human Beings for Southeast Europe (Transnational Mechanism – TRM):

TRM_Contacts_South-Eastern Europe_EN

Multidisciplinary cooperation guide

The Guide to Multidisciplinary Cooperation against Trafficking of Human Beings for Labour Exploitation is only available in Bulgarian: download here