Skip to content

Trafficking in human beings is a modern slavery, which violates the fundamental human rights of victims. It is a severe violation of individuals’ freedom and dignity and a serious crime.

The concept of trafficking in human beings is associated with various definitions set out both in professional literature and in international documents. The most common definition of trafficking in human beings, and one identifiable in our general conceptualisation, is trafficking in women and children as an especially sensitive category of persons, for the purpose of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Yet in addition to this, trafficking in human beings is aimed at serving the needs of modern-day slavery, exploitation of labour, begging, trafficking in organs and similar.

Trafficking in human beings includes all forms of recruitment, sale or transfer of vulnerable individuals or groups (within or outside the country) for the purpose of their exploitation (exploitation in the form of prostitution or other kinds of sexual abuse, forced labour, slavery, servitude and forced participation in criminal acts). It is based on payment or other forms of compensation, and on the use of physical or other violence, deceit, fraud, emotional abuse or social vulnerability abuse, so that consent of the victim or control thereof is achieved. 

Protocol supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (Palermo Protocol) defines trafficking in human beings as »recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.« 

Causes of trafficking in human beings

The fundamental cause of trafficking in human beings is poor economic situations in countries in which the victims of trafficking in human beings originate. The causes of proliferation of trafficking in human beings are increased vulnerability of people due to poverty, increasing unemployment rate, collapse of social and health care systems, lack of access to education, various forms of discrimination and marginalisation, gender-based inequality and violence against women, lack of social inclusion, armed conflicts and the situation thereafter, expansion of crime and corruption, etc. and increasing demand for services provided by the victims of trafficking.

General factors enabling the expansion of trafficking in human beings

  • Globalisation facilitates the movement of people, capital and business across national borders, which is reflected in increased migration flows and increased transnational crime;
  • Due to economic and political changes within the countries as well as internationally, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening;
  • Expansion of sex industry and business sectors relating to it (tourism, gambling);
  • Global feminisation of poverty is causing feminisation of migration;
  • Trafficking in human beings is becoming a structural component of certain economic sectors (construction, agriculture, textile and food industries).

Distinctions between human smuggling and human trafficking

In case of smuggling, a perpetrator (smuggler) and a migrant strike a deal. As a rule, a migrant finds a smuggler and knowingly consents to be taken from one country to another for a certain payment. After the fulfilment of agreed obligations, the relationship between perpetrator and migrant is terminated.

Trafficking in human beings, on the other hand, is a combination of three elements:

  • acts, such as recruitment, transportation, harbouring
  • the means used, such as threat, the use of force, abduction, fraud, abuse of power or vulnerability
  • purpose, which is mainly defined as exploitation of prostitution, other forms of sexual abuse, forced labour, forced services, slavery, servitude, begging, involvement in criminal activities, removal of organs.

The victim’s dependence on a perpetrator does not cease with their arrival at the promised or agreed destination, but rather, that point is where exploitation begins.


Trafficking in human beings violates the victims’ fundamental human rights, such as protection of personality and dignity, freedom of movement, appropriate payment, the right to own property, the right to sexual integrity and privacy, etc.

Victims of trafficking in human beings mostly come from the poorest parts of the world or regions and from the poorest population segments; among the most vulnerable groups are children, adolescents, women, the unemployed, migrant workers, refugees, etc. However, anyone who finds themselves in a risky situation in a certain moment or period of their life, and consequently become vulnerable, may actually become a victim.

Victims are often held in virtual debt bondage – they are forced to work or give away their earnings in order to repay virtual “debts" to their traffickers (often supported by employment agencies and employers) who “overcharge” them excessively providing them employment and/or transportation. The “debt” is artificially inflated and additionally increased through tied accommodation, victims are often forced to live in entirely inappropriate conditions and pay high rents. "Debt” is an effective tool of submission, as victims are unable to fully repay it in a reasonable timeframe in order to free themselves.

Victims of trafficking in human beings are often sold several times. They are exposed to the worst forms of physical and psychological abuse. They are frightened and often fail to recognise themselves as victims, blaming themselves for their situation. They are forced to persist in a difficult situation due to their extreme economic and social hardship.

Target countries must enable reintegration of victims who managed to escape from their exploiters. Otherwise, they are in great danger of ending up in an exploitative relationship again.


Some traffickers operate independently, but most are part of international organised crime operations which control all phases from recruitment through transport to exploitation. Individual phases are carried out by traffickers or criminal organisations through networks at the local level. A criminal organisation is usually made up of local traffickers, who obtain victims, and traffickers abroad, who exploit these victims. Traffickers on both sides are usually nationals of the countries in which they operate.

Traffickers are constantly finding new forms of exploitation of people. In the past, traffickers were mostly men, but today criminal organisations are increasingly involving women in this activity. The perpetrators may also be family members, friends or acquaintances of the victim.

Forms of trafficking in human beings

  • Forced prostitution and other forms of sexual abuse
  • Forced labour and labour exploitation
  • Forced participation in criminal acts
  • Forced begging
  • Servitude
  • Trafficking in human organs, tissues and blood
  • Trafficking in children     
    •    Sexual abuse of children (exploitation of children for the purpose of  prostitution, photographs and videos of child sexual abuse, travelling for the purpose of sexual exploitation of children)    
    •    Economic exploitation of children (forced labour and labour exploitation of children and exploitation of children for petty crime)     
    •    Forced marriage of children    
    •    Trafficking in organs, tissues and blood    
    •    Illegal adoptions that can be related to child abduction    
    •    Exploitation of children for serving in military forces or armed groups

Some facts and figures


The International Labour Organization estimates that globally in 2016:

  • 40,3 million people are in modern slavery, including 24,9 million in forced labour and 15,4 million in forced marriage - it means there are 5,4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world
  • 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children
  • about 152 million children, aged between 5 and 17, were subject to child labour
  • women and girls are disproportionately affected by modern slavery, accounting almost 29 million, or 71 % of the overall total
  • women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors
  • out of the 24,9 million people trapped in forced labour, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million persons in forced labour imposed by state authorities

In the European Union:

According to data from the European Commission:

  • 20,532 victims of trafficking in human beings were registered in EU Member States in 2015 and 2016, of whom almost a quarter (23%) were children;
  • the predominant form of trafficking is sexual exploitation (56% of all registered victims), with 95% of victims being women and girls;
  • trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation is increasing and accounts for 26% of all registered victims (80% of the victims are men);
  • trafficking in children is growing sharply, with almost 4,722 child victims registered during this period;
  • EU citizens accounted for 44% of the victims, most of them from Romania, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland and Bulgaria. Most non-EU victims were from Nigeria, Albania, Vietnam, China and Eritrea.

In Slovenia:

In 2019: