2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Sweden

SWEDEN: Tier 1

The Government of Sweden fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Sweden remained on Tier 1. These efforts included prosecuting and convicting more traffickers and increasing the minimum penalty for the purchase of commercial sex acts from children following the entry into force of a 2020 amendment to the penal code. In addition, the government assessed the application process for residence permits to determine whether additional government actors should be allowed to apply on behalf of victims. Furthermore, as part of a four-year project, the government allocated 18 million krona ($2.2 million) to strengthen labor market regulation compliance efforts and review compliance developments, including efforts to prevent forced labor. Although the government meets the minimum standards, authorities investigated fewer trafficking cases and identified fewer trafficking victims. Additionally, the police did not proactively identify trafficking victims among unaccompanied children. The government delayed funding the national support program (NSP) for victim assistance, which offered the only effective unconditional assistance provided to victims, resulting in the program’s prolonged cessation. Moreover, the government did not provide overall consistent and sufficient funding for victim services, and assistance to victims was conditional on their cooperation with investigations and prosecutions.


Proactively identify trafficking victims, including among unaccompanied children, by providing clear procedures for identifying child victims and training relevant workers to recognize trafficking indicators. • Ensure adequate financial support for victim services by introducing a sustainable financial mechanism for consistent funding to NGOs and the NSP. • Ensure all victims have full, unconditional access to assistance, regardless of whether they cooperate with authorities. • Investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers under the trafficking statute and punish them with significant prison terms. • Provide adequate assistance and opportunity for recovery to all foreign victims by allowing additional government actors to apply for residence permits. • Increase efforts to identify labor trafficking victims and prosecute and convict labor traffickers. • Train officials involved in judicial proceedings, particularly judges, on all aspects of trafficking and understanding current anti-trafficking laws. • Increase the number of prosecutors who specialize in trafficking cases. • Enhance awareness efforts to educate asylum-seekers and unaccompanied children on the risks of sexual exploitation, forced criminality, and forced begging. • Establish specialized housing for trafficking victims, including for male victims. • Strengthen international law enforcement cooperation to prevent and investigate child sex tourism.


The government increased law enforcement efforts and strengthened anti-trafficking laws. Chapter 4 Section 1a of the Penal Code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of two to 10 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Chapter 4 Section 1b criminalized a lesser offense of “human exploitation,” which included the exploitation of individuals for labor or begging, and prescribed penalties of up to four years’ imprisonment; these penalties were also sufficiently stringent. In January 2020, an amendment to Chapter 6 Section 9 entered into force, increasing the penalties for the purchase of commercial sex acts from a child from a fine or up to two years’ imprisonment to a maximum of four years’ imprisonment.

According to the National Police, pandemic-related effects, such as reduced movement into Sweden, caused a decline in investigations. As a result, in 2020, police investigated 191 trafficking cases (109 sex trafficking, 41 labor trafficking, 41 uncategorized) and 80 human exploitation cases, compared with 272 and 47, respectively, in 2019. Authorities prosecuted 21 traffickers (seven sex trafficking, 14 labor trafficking) and convicted 12 traffickers (seven sex trafficking, five labor trafficking), a significant increase from four prosecutions and convictions in 2019. Of the 12 convicted traffickers, seven received sentences ranging from two to six years’ imprisonment; three received fines; and two received suspended sentences. Authorities convicted a migration official working at the Swedish embassy in Nigeria to one year in prison for facilitating trafficking-related crimes. In 2020, Swedish authorities collaborated with foreign governments on transnational investigations, including a pan-European case led by Europol involving child trafficking.

The National Police and the Migration Agency maintained coordinators focusing exclusively on leading their respective agencies’ anti-trafficking efforts. During the reporting period, the police trafficking rapporteur reported the government restored previously diverted resources that went toward other priorities, such as organized crime. Conversely, the Migration Agency coordinator noted a lack of government funding and the pandemic hindered the agency’s anti-trafficking efforts. In 2020, the police trafficking rapporteur and agency coordinator conducted online training for police, judges, and agency staff. The National Police incorporated trafficking training as part of the education program for new police recruits to improve awareness within the police force. The National Police also offered an online course for police officers and an annual advanced training course for all police officers and prosecutors working on trafficking cases. The Migration Agency provided guidance to migration agents on how to detect potential trafficking cases. The national courts offered training for judges and lawyers that included sections on sex trafficking and child victims; however, experts reported some judges continued to lack a sufficient understanding of trafficking cases and current trafficking laws. NGOs also reported the need for specialized prosecutors working on trafficking cases. The Prosecutor’s Office offered online education on trafficking issues with the goal to train all personnel to identify trafficking violations and enhance their ability to engage with victims. Additionally, the office’s educational center developed new methods for working on trafficking cases and monitoring the standards of current methods. The Swedish Coast Guard, police, and customs officials participated in joint regional intelligence operations in trafficking cases involving travel by sea.


The government marginally maintained victim protection efforts. NGOs identified 131 victims, compared with 162 victims in 2019. Authorities and frontline professionals utilized the existing national referral mechanism to identify and refer victims. In 2020, as a result of the pandemic and tightened migration policy, the Migration Agency reported a substantial reduction in the number of asylum applications submitted, receiving approximately 13,000 applications (492 from unaccompanied children), compared with 21,000 (902) in 2019, marking the lowest recorded number in the last 20 years, and allowing authorities to process and screen more efficiently applicants for trafficking indicators. The agency identified 366 potential trafficking victims among asylum-seekers, compared with 481 in 2019. Of the 366 potential victims, 48 were children—a decrease of nearly 50 percent from 92 in 2019. Experts noted many unaccompanied children were either trafficking victims or at risk of becoming victims, particularly of sexual exploitation or forced criminality. Experts also noted the police did not proactively identify potential victims among unaccompanied children and expressed concern that the number of reported cases misrepresented the real scale of child trafficking in Sweden.

Municipalities, in collaboration with NGOs and other government agencies, were the primary providers of victim services, including medical and psychological care, shelter, and social assistance. Assistance opportunities to victims and their families through municipalities were conditional on victims cooperating with authorities. Municipalities funded assistance and appropriate services, and the government subsequently reimbursed the expenses. However, statistics on the costs incurred by the municipalities were unavailable. Although the country lacked shelters dedicated solely to trafficking victims, some municipalities ran shelters offering services to sex trafficking victims. Adult female trafficking victims could receive services at women’s shelters for victims of domestic and honor-related violence. Authorities referred child victims to social services officials, who placed child victims in foster care or group housing. There was no protected housing available to male trafficking victims. The Gender Equality Agency, which managed anti-trafficking efforts for the government, led a network of approximately 40 NGO-run safe houses. NGOs reported insufficient funding and the pandemic hindered the ability to assist victims. Furthermore, social distancing protocols to contain the spread of the pandemic contributed to victims staying at shelters for longer periods than anticipated, thereby unintentionally preventing other victims from receiving shelter, when care shelters had reached maximum capacity. In 2020, the Gender Equality Agency delayed funding the NSP, a civil society platform representing 20 NGOs that provided assistance to victims and that ceased operations in 2019 due to lack of funding. Experts expressed concern the temporary cessation of the NSP’s operation meant Sweden no longer fulfilled its international commitments regarding assistance to victims because the NSP offered the only effective unconditional assistance provided to victims. The program focused on victims who in their current state did not have a right to assistance through the formal system. Ultimately, the government allocated 1.5 million krona ($183,550) to the NSP, and it resumed operations in the middle of the reporting period. However, NGOs considered the amount allocated inadequate to comply with obligations and demand. In previous years, funding for the program fluctuated—zero in 2019; 800,000 krona ($97,900) in 2018; zero in 2017; and 500,000 krona ($61,180) in 2016. NGOs criticized the Gender Equality Agency for poor coordination on anti-trafficking efforts.

The Aliens Act entitled foreign victims to a 30-day reflection period to contemplate cooperation with law enforcement, during which they were eligible for assistance and emergency financial aid; however, only an investigating police officer or prosecutor could file an application for residence permits, limiting availability to victims already in contact with law enforcement. In an effort to ensure availability of adequate assistance and opportunity for recovery to all foreign victims regardless of their cooperation with authorities, the government started an evaluation of the application process for residence permits to determine whether additional government actors should be allowed to apply on behalf of victims. Foreign victims who cooperated with authorities received temporary residence permits, which allowed them to seek employment. Sixty trafficking victims received permits in 2020 (44 in 2019).


The government increased prevention efforts. The government continued to implement its national action plan; however, experts raised concerns regarding the lack of resources dedicated to the plan as demonstrated by the inconsistent funding of the NSP. The Gender Equality Agency maintained a regional coordinator in each of the country’s seven regions who assisted police and judicial authorities with trafficking cases. Authorities from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden facilitated international policing efforts and information-sharing, including on trafficking-related issues, through Nordic liaison officers stationed at 20 Nordic embassies and consulates around the world. In collaboration with other Baltic Sea Region countries, the government participated in a project establishing long-term cooperation between stakeholders and academia to educate future journalists on trafficking issues through workshops, panel discussions, and competitions. National and regional authorities conducted training for workers in the hotel, restaurant, and taxi sectors on how to detect potential trafficking victims. In 2020, Sweden and France continued to conduct a joint campaign raising awareness on sex trafficking. The Gender Equality Agency continued conducting a three-year study on the scope of sex trafficking in Sweden, focusing on children exploited in commercial sex. As part of the study, the agency collected and disseminated educational materials to professionals on responding to sex trafficking cases and mapped local and regional support initiatives. The Bar Association offered training on the commercial exploitation of children, including child sex trafficking and child sex tourism. The National Police’s Department of National Operations handled investigations involving Swedish citizens suspected of child sex tourism and assisted police departments throughout Sweden on matters of child sex trafficking. The National Police’s specialized cybercrime unit maintained a child protection team that trained travel agencies to detect and report child sex tourism. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for participation in international sex tourism by its citizens, despite allegations of such actions by its citizens. The National Taskforce Against Prostitution and Human Trafficking (NMT) launched an information campaign aimed at female commercial sex trafficking victims with messages in six languages. The campaign collaborated with the 24-hour National Women’s Helpline, which supported victims of violence, including trafficking. In addition, NMT operated a helpline for potential trafficking victims to receive support and advice. The government funded both helplines with an annual budget of 20 million krona ($2.45 million). During the reporting period, the government developed a comprehensive action program to prevent and combat men’s violence against women, including trafficking, as well as the exposure of members of the LGBTQI+ community to all types of violence. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, including awareness campaigns aimed at educating purchasers of commercial sex and an assessment of the purchase of sexual acts legislation (Chapter 6, Sections 9 and 11). The assessment examined the effectiveness of the legislation and its application with the goal to reveal how the judicial system handles such crimes from investigation to sentencing. The assessment also analyzed the nexus between the purchase of commercial sex and trafficking and the role of social services.

Authorities and NGOs acknowledged labor trafficking was an increasing problem, especially for seasonal workers and vulnerable migrants. In 2020, the National Audit Office published a report examining Swedish efforts to combat labor trafficking and proposing activities to strengthen the government’s anti-trafficking work. Experts recommended better interagency coordination to facilitate the identification of labor trafficking cases. In an effort to identify cases, authorities conducted mandatory interviews with foreign workers employed in at-risk sectors and seeking to extend their work permits. The Migration Agency conducted background checks on companies employing foreign workers and occasionally denied work visas in cases where employment contracts did not meet the necessary requirements. Additionally, the agency developed a training module on trafficking and provided a manual to assist migration agents in detecting trafficking cases. Multiple agencies carried out joint workplace inspections as part of a major EU effort against labor exploitation. As part of a four-year project, the government allocated 18 million krona ($2.2 million) in 2020 to strengthen labor market regulation compliance efforts and review compliance developments, including efforts to prevent forced labor. The government participated in a multi-country anti-trafficking taskforce that evaluated trafficking related to migration flows. The International Development Agency in conjunction with an international organization continued implementing a five-year project aimed at ensuring Asian companies pursue ethical recruitment and employment of migrant workers.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Sweden, and, to a lesser extent, traffickers exploit victims from Sweden abroad. Most traffickers are the same nationality as their victims and are often part of criminal networks engaged in multiple criminal activities, although an increasing number of reported cases involve traffickers who are family members or have no ties to organized crime. Police report traffickers exploit transgender women from countries in South America, such as Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Peru, in commercial sex in Sweden. Most sex trafficking and labor trafficking victims originate from Eastern Europe, Africa, East Asia, and the Middle East. Sex trafficking remains the most prevalent form of trafficking in Sweden with most cases involving women and children from West Africa and Eastern Europe. Authorities and NGOs report the prevalence of Swedes traveling abroad, primarily to East Asia, for the purpose of child sex tourism. Victims of labor trafficking, who largely originate from Eastern Europe, East Asia, and West Africa, face exploitation in the service, cleaning, private delivery, and construction industries. Since 2010, there has been an increase in labor trafficking cases. The migration agency notes increased exploitation in the private delivery industry, such as messengers and food delivery drivers, who work under conditions that violate Swedish labor laws. Police report citizens of Thailand working in nail salons and massage parlors exploited in trafficking. Cases among seasonal berry pickers have decreased significantly in recent years; however, individuals mostly from Asia and Bulgaria, continue to face exploitation in the agricultural sector. Roma, primarily from Bulgaria and Romania, remain vulnerable to forced begging and criminality and, to a lesser extent, sex trafficking. As a consequence of the pandemic, the Migration Agency reports a substantial reduction in the number of asylum applications submitted, marking the lowest recorded number in the last 20 years. Asylum-seekers, particularly those from Africa, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and South America, as well as many stateless individuals, are at risk of trafficking. In recent years, traffickers subjected Moroccan boys and young men to forced criminal activity, though reports indicate a decline in the number of victims in 2020. Unaccompanied children are especially vulnerable to trafficking, with a majority of suspected child trafficking victims arriving in Sweden primarily from Africa and the Middle East.