Trafficking in Persons Report 2012 - Switzerland


Switzerland is primarily a destination and, to a lesser extent, a transit country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking and children forced into begging and theft. Sex trafficking victims originate primarily from Central and Eastern Europe (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine), though victims also come from Latin America (Brazil and the Dominican Republic), Asia (Thailand), and Africa (Nigeria, Guinea, and Cameroon). During the last year, Swiss government officials and NGOs reported an increase in the number of women in prostitution and children forced into begging and shoplifting from other parts of Europe, especially Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, many of whom were ethnic Roma. The majority of identified victims in sex trafficking were women between the ages of 17 and 25, although some victims were as young as 14-years-old. Most victims reported a significant history of exposure to violence and exploitation prior to their arrival in Switzerland. While the majority of trafficking victims were found in urban areas, police and NGOs have encountered victims in bars in rural areas in recent years. Swiss police encountered an increasing number of sex trafficking victims forced into prostitution in private apartments. There reportedly was forced labor in the domestic service sector, particularly in foreign diplomatic households in Geneva, and increasingly in agriculture, construction, hotels, and restaurants. Federal police assessed that the total number of potential trafficking victims residing in Switzerland was between 2,000 and 3,000. Most of the victims who were trafficked to Switzerland were recruited through family members or friends.

The Government of Switzerland does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The Swiss government took strong and diverse efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period, including funding a campaign against child sex tourism, conducting a study on child begging, and forming bilateral working groups on trafficking with key source countries. Nevertheless, many Swiss cantons identified few children in begging as trafficking victims. Swiss efforts to protect trafficking victims improved with the introduction of measures to better protect witnesses; these measures were taken, in part, to lay the groundwork for Switzerland to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. Switzerland also took critical federal-level actions to enable the legislature eventually to pass a law prohibiting prostitution of all persons under 18. Nevertheless, until the third-party harboring, transport, or recruitment of a teenager in prostitution is illegal, Switzerland does not prohibit all forms of trafficking. In addition, improvements are needed in accountability for convicted traffickers; suspended sentences continue to be the norm.

Recommendations for Switzerland: Ensure the prohibition of the prostitution of all persons under 18-years-old nationwide; explore ways to increase the number of convicted traffickers who receive sentences commensurate with the gravity of this serious crime; increase the number of convicted traffickers serving time in prison; provide adequate funding for trafficking victim service providers and ensure there are trafficking-specific services for children and male victims; drawing from recommendations in the Union of Swiss Cities and City of Bern report on begging, strengthen trafficking victim services to children in begging in all cantons; identify more children in begging as trafficking victims; conduct a nationwide awareness campaign that addresses labor and sex trafficking and targets potential victims, the general public, as well as potential clients of the sex trade and consumers of products made and services provided through forced labor.


The Government of Switzerland continued to improve its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts this reporting period, largely by moving forward toward the prohibition of child prostitution. Switzerland prohibits trafficking for most forms of sexual and labor exploitation through articles 182 and 195 of the Swiss penal code, which prescribe penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment; these penalties are commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Swiss law does not, however, expressly prohibit the prostitution of children aged 16 and 17 under all circumstances throughout the country, leaving these children vulnerable to sex trafficking when a third party profits from a child in prostitution. In December 2011, the Federal Council approved an amendment to the Swiss penal code that would prohibit the prostitution of children aged 16 and 17, including the transportation or harboring of children in prostitution. This modification of the penal code is ongoing and is expected to be completed by late 2012 or early 2013. In the reporting period, several cantons also prohibited child prostitution.

The Swiss government continued to operate specialized anti-trafficking law enforcement units at the federal level. The Coordination Unit against the Trafficking of Persons and Smuggling of Migrants (KSMM) is the specialized unit of the federal office of police tasked with anti-trafficking policy, information exchange, cooperation, and training; it is not directly involved in criminal proceedings or investigations. Swiss authorities conducted 233 investigations into human trafficking and forced prostitution in 2011, in contrast to 159 investigations in 2010. At least 11 of those cases involved labor trafficking. During 2011, the government prosecuted approximately 50 suspected offenders for sex and labor trafficking offenses, and 69 for forced prostitution, compared to 62 prosecutions for sex and labor trafficking and 99 for forced prostitution in 2010. Swiss authorities convicted 14 sex trafficking offenders in 2011, compared with the 31 offenders convicted in 2009. Swiss courts continued to award suspended sentences to many convicted trafficking offenders; although some offenders received up to 4.5 years’ imprisonment, at least three other convicted offenders received suspended sentences.

On April 1, the KSMM and the Swiss police institute held an advanced course for police and security forces on combating human trafficking. On October 27, the KSMM collaborated with a cantonal entity to organize an interdisciplinary seminar for judicial authorities in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. In June, Swiss authorities incorporated many of the principles of an anti-trafficking guide produced by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) into Swiss anti-trafficking training manuals. The guide included instruction on how to identify potential and presumed trafficking victims. During the reporting period, Swiss authorities cooperated with several countries and with Europol to investigate trafficking crimes. The government did not report the investigation, prosecution, conviction, or sentencing of any public officials for human trafficking complicity.

The Swiss federal government improved efforts to bring foreign diplomats who had committed domestic servitude in Switzerland to accountability. In September 2011, the federal court of the Canton of Geneva ruled that the consul general of Saudi Arabia resident in Geneva had violated the rights of two Indonesian domestic workers the consul general had employed for domestic work and childcare in 2005 and 2006. The consul general had forced the two women to work 14-hour days, paying them as little as $300 per month. The court ordered the Saudi diplomat and the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to reimburse the two domestic workers for unpaid wages totaling $82,000.


The Government of Switzerland improved its victim protection efforts during the reporting period, significantly enhancing protections for victims who chose to be witnesses in court proceedings. Under the Swiss Victims Assistance Law, all trafficking victims were entitled to shelter, free medical aid, living stipends, and psychological, social, and legal assistance from government-funded victim assistance centers. Although some facilities specialized in assistance to trafficking victims, most were shelters for victims of domestic violence. Trafficking victims were allowed to leave the shelters at will and without chaperones. In 2011, the leading anti-trafficking NGO offered specialized shelter in apartments exclusively for female trafficking victims. Availability of services to men was often limited in rural areas, but in urban areas, there were assistance centers with more specialized expertise available for trafficked men and boys. Male victims were occasionally accommodated at hotels or NGO-run shelters. The Swiss government also provided financial support to NGOs active in supporting trafficking victims.

Several of Switzerland’s cantons have formal procedures for the identification of victims and their referral to protective services. Swiss government authorities referred approximately 53 percent of the trafficking victims to NGO assistance centers. Cantonal assistance centers identified at least 61 victims in 2011, compared with 90 victims in 2010. The country’s principal anti-trafficking NGO received approximately half of its operational funding from the government. The lead NGO reported assisting 164 trafficking victims, 61 of whom were newly identified victims, compared with 179 sex trafficking victims and seven labor trafficking victims in 2010. Over 80 percent of these victims were sex trafficking victims. Federal and cantonal authorities compensated NGOs on a per capita basis for services provided to trafficking victims. Although the majority of victims served were women, one major anti-trafficking NGO offered assistance to a male sex trafficking victim.

The government encouraged victims of trafficking to participate in prosecutions; at least 100 victims of trafficking cooperated in the investigation or prosecution of trafficking offenders in 2011. The government implemented new witness protection measures for high-risk trials, including trafficking trials; the new measures provide the opportunity to obscure trafficking victims’ physical appearances and relocate witnesses. The Swiss Federal Council also allocated over $2 million for witness protection facilities in 2012. Cantonal immigration offices granted 30-day stays of deportation to more than 19 trafficking victims in 2011 and issued 66 short-term residency permits to victims for the duration of legal proceedings against their traffickers, compared with 34 stays of deportation and 51 short-term residency permits in 2010. The government also granted thirteen trafficking victims long-term residency permits on personal hardship grounds, an increase from 10 victims in 2010. Although there were no reports of victims being penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, some victims not identified may have been treated as immigration violators. Swiss law enforcement took efforts to ensure that children in begging were treated as trafficking victims rather than criminals by making a strong policy statement on the proper treatment of children in forced begging.


The government significantly improved its trafficking prevention activities during the reporting period, adopting new regulations on the working conditions for domestic staff in diplomatic households and entering into bilateral anti-trafficking partnerships with governments of key source countries. The Swiss Federal council adopted the Private Household Employees Ordinance, which provided new guidelines for the working conditions for domestic staff employed by members of the diplomatic and international organization communities. The Swiss government strengthened relationships with source countries to address trafficking in persons, including establishing a bilateral working group with Romania on trafficking in persons. During the past two years, Switzerland has allocated the equivalent of $1.5 million to support the code of conduct for the tourism industry aimed at reducing child sex tourism. In May and November 2011, Swiss authorities also conducted workshops on combating child sex tourism. Nevertheless, the Swiss did not prosecute any child sex tourism cases in 2011. The Swiss government gave significant funds to anti-trafficking programs internationally, including in Africa, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. In order to raise public awareness, the Swiss government co-funded the production of a movie about trafficking in Switzerland. The police coordinating unit collaborated with the union of Swiss cities and the Bern police to conduct a study and report on organized child begging, which concluded that children begging and stealing should be considered victims of trafficking rather than criminals and afforded protection. The government provided specific anti-trafficking training for all Swiss military personnel prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.

Associated documents

  • Document ID 1318952 Related / Associated
  • Methodology associated with Report on human trafficking (covering March 2011 to February 2012)

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