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Migration and Home Affairs

General information: situation on trafficking in human beings

Bulgaria mainly continues to be a country of origin for victims of trafficking in human beings, and to a lesser degree a country of transit and destination with prevalence of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, mainly involving women and girls. Secondly, male victims of human trafficking are mostly exploited for the purpose of forced labour. Other forms of trafficking include forced begging, the sale of newly born children and sham marriages.

Formally and informally identified victims in cross-border trafficking are exploited in main destination countries, such as: Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria, United Kingdom, France and Switzerland. Spain, Italy, Czech Republic and Belgium are main countries of destination with regard to labour exploitation and/or trafficking for forced labour.

In terms of internal trafficking, high-risk areas are seasonal work in agriculture, as well as the hospitality business in the seaside and ski resorts.

Traffickers continue to rely mostly on deception or soft and emotional methods of involvement of the victims when it comes to human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. In terms of labour exploitation, the recruitment is based on a relatively simple business model in which victims are recruited and exploited without formal employment contracts in sectors such as agriculture, construction, cleaning and care for the elderly people.

Information and communication technologies and social networks continue to be preferred methods of recruitment and control of victims. They also play an important role in the investigation process as well as in different prevention activities.

High-risk groups in Bulgaria are women involved in the sex industry, residents of rural and less developed regions, unemployed people, those illiterate or with lower levels of education, the Roma minority and disadvantaged people - physically and mentally.

Since the beginning of the refugee and migrant crisis in the early 2010s, unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers, and migrants among third-country nationals passing through the territory of Bulgaria have also been identified as a high-risk group. Some noticeable trends regarding vulnerable groups include a rising risk for young and educated people in big cities due to the increased use of internet and social networks by traffickers, for pregnant women in certain regions, for women potential victims of trafficking for sham marriages with non-EU nationals, and for men and boys to be trafficked for sexual exploitation.

In terms of numbers, the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassation in Bulgaria provides the following statistics (it is the official source on formally identified victims of trafficking):

Victims

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

 

Total number of victims

495

409

447

508

443

404

458

 

Female, of whom

464

381

409

444

389

353

397

 

minor (14-18 years of age)

23

27

20

36

51

31

23

 

minor (below 14 years of age)

8

1

1

1

2

0

5

 

Male, of whom

31

28

38

64

54

51

61

 

minor (14-18 years of age)

0

0

1

0

3

2

3

 

minor (below 14 years of age)

14

5

3

5

1

0

0

 

Distribution of the victims according to the purpose of trafficking

Sexual exploitation

409

314

329

323

309

280

336

 

Female, of whom

398

311

318

316

307

271

333

 

minor (14-18 years of age)

22

24

19

32

48

26

20

 

minor (below 14 years of age)

6

2

1

0

1

0

4

 

Male, of whom

11

3

11

7

2

9

3

 

minor (14-18 years of age)

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

 

minor (below 14 years of age)

10

1

0

0

0

0

0

 

Labour exploitation

16

26

31

67

59

44

69

 

Female

3

4

8

16

12

10

15

 

Male

13

22

23

51

47

34

54

 

Organ removal

2

1

1

1

2

8

0

 

Female

1

0

0

0

0

4

0

 

Male

1

1

1

1

2

4

0

 

Servitude

11

6

5

17

8

16

0

 

Female

4

6

3

14

5

12

6

 

Male

7

0

2

3

3

4

2

 

Pregnant women for the purpose of newborns’ selling

57

59

80

97

64

56

0

 

As a coordinator of the National Referral Mechanism, the Secretariat of the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (NCCTHB) collects alerts about - presumed victims detected by NGOs, international organisations, citizens and other sources, as well as formally identified ones by investigative authorities (both national and foreign). Therefore, the data partially overlaps with the Supreme Cassation Prosecutor’s Office statistics and the newly initiated proceedings.

Alerts to the NCCTHB’s office in 2020

Total number of alerts

53

Total number of persons at risk

60

Alerts to the NCCTHB’s office by September 2021

Total number of alerts

41

Total number of persons at risk

87

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

Relevant legislation

Bulgaria is party to all major international agreements in the sphere of human trafficking. It was one of the first countries to ratify the United Nations’ Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children (the Palermo Protocol) and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. As part of its EU accession process in the 2000s, Bulgaria reformed and upgraded thoroughly its legislation in order to fulfil the EU political criteria in the sphere of human trafficking and is now regularly reporting on progress along the transposed Directive 2011/36/EU. Bulgaria is party to all major human rights and crime-related international and EU documents linked to human trafficking.

The national anti-trafficking and victims protection policy is regulated in the Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings Act, adopted in 2003 and last amended and supplemented in 2019. Another key strategic document is the National Anti-Trafficking Strategy 2017–2021 (currently in process of evaluation) which is implemented through the annual National Anti-Trafficking and Victim Protection Programmes.

Trafficking in human beings is regulated as a crime against someone’s person in the Criminal Code: articles 16a, 159a, 159b, 159c, 182b (consent sale of a child or newborn). The Criminal Code comprises also similar or related criminal activities including forceful sexual intercourse, involvement or abduction in acts of debauchery or prostitution (article 152, 153, 156); employing consciously, illegally residing foreigners - VoTs or smuggling (articles 227 and 280).

On the basis of Article 4 of the Anti-Trafficking Act, the National Commission for Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (NCCTHB; National Anti-Trafficking Commission) was established in 2004, and gradually Local Commissions for Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (LCCTHB) were set up within ten municipalities in the country. Under the methodological guidance of the National Anti-Trafficking Commission, LCCTHB operate in the cities of Blagoevgrad, Burgas, Montana, Pazardzhik, Pleven, Plovdiv, Ruse, Varna, Sliven and Veliko Tarnovo. The National Anti-Trafficking Commission acts under the Council of Ministers as national coordinator ensuring the interaction of the individual authorities, institutions and organisations, including NGOs, for the implementation of the Anti-Trafficking Act.

The responsibilities of the NCCTHB include organising and conducting information and education campaigns for risk groups; managing and supervising the work of the local anti-trafficking commissions, the shelters and support and protection centres for victims of trafficking, and taking part in international cooperation for preventing and counteracting trafficking in human beings. The NCCTHB organises, in the framework of the above-mentioned campaigns or as separate activities, national and international events such as conferences, forums, round tables and capacity building seminars on topics related to human trafficking.

On national level, in its capacity of a National rapporteur or equivalent mechanism, the NCCTHB initiates regular studies on topics related to the different aspects of human trafficking and periodically submits information to the competent authorities and relevant stakeholders. In addition, the NCCTHB collects information about the crime submitted by public authorities such as the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassation, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, State Agency for Child Protection, Social Assistance Agency etc., as well as information provided by NGOs, foreign missions to Bulgaria, international organisations and natural persons (victims of trafficking or their relatives). On the basis of these data, reports similar to the European ones are compiled and presented to the international and European anti-trafficking institutions and organisations as well as to the Bulgarian institutions, organisations and stakeholders.

Protection of the victims and access to rights

The Council of Ministers adopted, by a decision of 20 June 2016, the National Referral Mechanism for Support of Trafficked Persons (NRM), a document regulating the steps and procedures to be followed with a view to rendering immediate and adequate assistance and support to victims of human trafficking. The document is binding and is an updated version of the NRM developed as guidelines in 2010. In addition, the National Referral Mechanism outlines an algorithm of timely and comprehensive interagency communication and coordination. The National Anti-Trafficking Commission is the coordinating body under the NRM. To enhance the implementation of the NRM, a multi-agency and multi-disciplinary team coordinated by the NCCTHB has been set up to respond to complex cases of human trafficking.

At present, under the NCCTHB, there are seven services specialised specifically for adult victims of trafficking in human beings (victims can be accommodated with their children), including 5 services financed by the delegated budget of the NCCTHB (2 shelters for temporary accommodation, 1 shelter for subsequent reintegration and 2 consultative services – centres for protection and support in the regions of Varna and Burgas), and 2 services (shelter for temporary accommodation and centre for protection and support) on the territory of Sofia city for which external funding is ensured within a project, implemented by the NCCTHB under the Internal Security Fund. The services have accommodation capacity of 26 beds. Additionally, on the territory of Sofia city since January 2020, a crisis centre with priority accommodation of children victims of trafficking is functioning as a state delegated service accommodated in property provided by the NCCTHB under a contract with Sofia Municipality.

Victims of trafficking also benefit from the social services, including Crisis centres for victims of violence and human trafficking throughout the country (19 for children and 6 for adults): state-delegated activity, upon their request, and in compliance with the provisions of the Law on Social Assistance, and the Regulations for the implementation of the Law on Social Assistance.

Most of the victims accommodated in the specialised services are female. Male victims who are willing to be accommodated, are referred to appropriate services that take account of their needs, including services provided by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (MLSP) and/or hospices, since most of those who seek accommodation are in complicate health condition, including dependencies.

Prosecution of traffickers and perpetrators

The Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Bulgaria in its capacity of a leading authority in charge of the formal identification of victims of trafficking and the driving force in pre-trial proceedings, is the major source of statistical data concerning human trafficking on state level.

Number of persons brought to court, convicted persons, imposed punishments and acquittals over the period 2014-2019:

 

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

Persons brought to court

94

99

80

88

68

73

Convicted and sanctioned persons with a final judicial act

59

49

36

62

58

61

Punished (Fine is imposed together with imprisonment):

 

 

Imprisonment – effective

19

16

12

20

15

19

Imprisonment – conditionally suspended

37

32

23

41

43

20

Fine

31

23

8

29

21

26

Finally acquitted persons

5

4

2

0

2

9

Source: Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassation

Prevention

Prevention activities are mainly addressing potential victims of human trafficking and different targeted risk groups. Reducing risk factors and implementing beneficial protective factors in countries of origin is a persistent challenge, also related to different aspects of national social and educational policies.

The Secretariat of the NCCTHB conducts annual nation-wide prevention and information campaigns including a series of events addressing counteraction of human trafficking and enhancing the general public and vulnerable groups’ awareness of the crime. The NCCTHB is further involved as a partner in joint information and prevention activities together with other representatives of the public and the non-governmental sector. In order to reach the representatives of the most vulnerable groups, the prevention and information campaigns on local level are organised and conducted jointly with the Local Anti-Trafficking Coordinators. NCCTHB’s Secretariat conducts on average three national campaigns annually relying both on online and offline advertising, and promo tools. The ten Local Anti-Trafficking Commissions carry out every year their own campaigns on local level as well as volunteers’ trainings and information sessions.   

Good results of raising awareness activities are visible during conceptually related simultaneous campaigns developed both in countries of origin and destination. The exchange of good practices and coordinated efforts, measures and prevention activities show good results on bilateral level as well.  Leading simultaneous campaigns, which are conceptually related also in countries where we have analytical data that victims from a certain country of origin (from concrete regions) are trafficked to certain and concrete regions in countries of destination is an essential prevention tool as well.

Inevitably, one of the best ways of prevention is when the society and most of all victims of human trafficking see the effective sentences of the traffickers.

National action plan

Programmes and initiatives addressing trafficking in human beings

The National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings adopts annually a National Programme for Countering Human Trafficking and Protection of the Victims. The Programme corresponds with the acting National Strategy for Combating trafficking in human beings (the current one is in process of evaluation and a new strategic document to be elaborated) and comprises activities planned by the NCCTHB Secretariat, the institutions-members of the Commission, international ogranisations, and representatives of the civil society. The document is then endorsed at a regular session of the Council of Ministers.

The National Programme consists of seven sections:

  1. institutional and organisational measures
  2. prevention
  3. trainings and capacity building
  4. protection, recovery and re-integration of the victims of human trafficking
  5. research, analysis and statistical reporting on data on human trafficking
  6. international cooperation and
  7. legislative amendments

Every activity listed in the Programme has a clear description, objective, timeframe, expected results, responsible party and financial dimension.

National Strategy and National Programmes are available on the website of NCCTHB: http://antitraffic.government.bg

Cross-border cooperation to address trafficking in human beings

The National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings acts as a National Rapporteur or Equivalent Mechanism for Bulgaria within the network of NREMs under the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator. The Commission is also a member of the Network of National Anti-trafficking Coordinators from South-Eastern Europe (SEE).

The NCCTHB acts as a contact point for Bulgaria of the Transnational Referral Mechanism, developed by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) in Vienna.

Relevant reports

NCCTHB Annual Reports are available on the following link:https://antitraffic.government.bg/bg/about#reports

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

Secretariat of the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, Bulgaria

52 A G. M. Dimitrov Blvd.

1797 Sofia

Tel.: + 359 2 807 80 50

E-mail: office@antitraffic.government.bg

http://antitraffic.government.bg/

 

Helpline

National rapporteur or equivalent mechanism

Government

Law enforcement

Relevant ministries and government agencies

Intergovernmental organisations

Civil society organisations

National Network of Health /Roma/ Mediators: http://www.zdravenmediator.net/en/