2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Germany


The Government of Germany does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Germany remained on Tier 2. These efforts included prosecuting more suspected traffickers and convicting more traffickers than the prior year, as well as increasing funding for victim protection. The government also passed a law and an amendment aimed at increasing protections for vulnerable migrant workers against labor trafficking. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Lenient sentencing, resulting in 72 percent of traffickers receiving fully suspended sentences, fines, or less than one year imprisonment undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable. The government investigated fewer suspected traffickers and remained without a national victim identification and referral mechanism for all forms of trafficking. The government continued to report incomplete data on victims provided with care, and labor trafficking law enforcement efforts remained low compared with sex trafficking.


Vigorously investigate and prosecute suspected labor and sex traffickers, and sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties, which should involve serving significant prison terms. • Increase prioritization of labor trafficking, including victim identification and investigation and prosecution of labor traffickers. • Ensure equitable treatment of victims by creating a national identification and referral guideline for all forms of trafficking across all states. • Ensure systematic and continuous anti-trafficking training for immigration officers to increase proactive victim identification among foreign migrants and asylum-seekers. • Ensure systematic provision of care for child victims and extend more specialized care, services, and accommodations for male victims. •Adopt a national anti-trafficking action plan for all forms of trafficking. • Increase awareness and availability of robust human trafficking training courses for judges that adjudicate trafficking cases. • Increase the capacity of investigators, prosecutors, and courts with specific expertise on trafficking cases to minimize delays in bringing cases to trial and consider additional dedicated human trafficking units. • Increase worker protections by eliminating recruitment or placement fees charged to workers by German labor recruiters and ensuring employers pay any recruitment fees. • Implement effective regulations and oversight of recruitment companies and industries composed predominantly of migrant workers, which are consistently enforced, including prosecution for fraudulent labor recruitment and labor trafficking. • Appoint a national rapporteur to provide independent review of government efforts on both labor and sex trafficking. • Establish a uniform and comprehensive data collection system, including publicly available disaggregated data on sentencing where courts convict defendants of both trafficking and one or more other serious crimes. • Appoint a national coordinating body, responsible for both sex and labor trafficking, to increase harmonization of the institutional framework and coordination structures at the federal and state levels. • Increase efforts to order restitution for victims.


The government maintained mixed law enforcement efforts; prosecutions and convictions increased while investigations decreased and sentencing of convicted traffickers remained lenient. The criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking under Sections 232, 232(a), 232(b), 233, and 233(a) and prescribed punishments of six months to 10 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law did not require proof of force or coercion to prosecute suspected sex traffickers when victims were younger than 21. The complex wording and scope of the trafficking and exploitation sections in the Criminal Code (Sections 232 to 233a) reportedly resulted in state prosecutors sometimes charging suspected traffickers with offenses considered easier to prove than coercion in labor and sex trafficking. As a federal system, jurisdiction for criminal prosecutions in Germany rested with state courts and consequently procedures, staffing, and funding varied from state to state.

State governments completed 313 pre-trial trafficking investigations of 472 suspects in 2019, the most recent year for which the government had comprehensive statistics, a decrease compared with 386 investigations into 602 suspects in 2018. Of the investigations, there were 287 for sex trafficking (compared with 356 in 2018), 14 for labor trafficking (compared with 21 in 2018), one for forced begging (compared with two in 2018), and 11 for forced criminality (compared with seven in 2018). Police identified 430 suspects for sex trafficking (compared with 552 in 2017), 22 for labor trafficking (compared with 30 in 2018), one for forced begging (compared with 10 in 2018), and 19 for forced criminality (compared with 10 in 2018). Sex trafficking suspects were primarily German, Romanian, and Bulgarian. Half (50 percent) of the suspects were acquainted with the victim prior to exploiting them in sex trafficking.

For each case in which a court convicted a defendant of multiple crimes, published government statistics reported it only under the charge with the highest statutory sentence. Therefore, previously reported statistics did not include cases in which the court convicted a defendant of trafficking and where that defendant received an aggregate sentence for another crime that carried a higher statutory sentence. Historically, the government only provided prosecution and conviction statistics for human trafficking cases where it was the primary charge; however, for the first time the government provided statistics for the number of suspects it prosecuted and convicted with human trafficking as a secondary charge. In 2019, the states collectively prosecuted 81 defendants with trafficking as the primary charge, a decrease compared with 96 in 2018. The government prosecuted at least 134 suspects with human trafficking as the secondary charge in 2019, an increase compared with at least 99 from 2018. Total prosecutions for 2019 were at least 215, while total prosecutions for 2018 were at least 195. Courts convicted 61 traffickers with trafficking as the primary charge in 2019, compared with 68 in 2018. For convictions with human trafficking as the secondary charge, courts convicted 134 traffickers in 2019, an increase compared with 99 in 2018. The total convictions for 2019 were 195, compared with 167 in 2018. The government only provided sentencing statistics for convictions with trafficking as the primary charge. Of the 61 convictions with trafficking as the primary charge in 2019, 36 (59 percent) resulted in fully suspended sentences with traffickers serving no prison time (the same percentage as in 2018), six traffickers (10 percent) received only fines (compared with 17 percent in 2018), and two traffickers (3 percent) were sentenced to under one year in prison (compared with 1 percent in 2018). This resulted in 72 percent of convicted traffickers receiving either a fully suspended sentence, a fine, or less than year in prison, which did not serve to deter the crime or adequately reflect the nature of the offense. Seventeen of the 61 convicted traffickers received significant prison sentences (28 percent) of more than one year in prison (compared with 23 percent in 2018). Of the 17 significant sentences, one trafficker was sentenced to between one and two years, eight traffickers were sentenced to between two and three years, seven traffickers were sentenced to between three and five years, and one trafficker was sentenced to between five and 10 years’ imprisonment. However, in comparison, about the same percentage of defendants, 49 percent, convicted of rape in 2019 served prison time, as those convicted specifically for sex-trafficking crimes, 43 percent. Under German sentencing practices, judges typically suspended sentences under two years, particularly for first-time offenders, for most crimes including human trafficking. This practice weakened deterrence, potentially undercut efforts of police and prosecutors, and created potential security and safety concerns, particularly for victims who cooperated with investigations and prosecutions. Current standards in classification and procedure in data collection, in addition to strict privacy laws, continued to result in incomplete data and underreporting. This likely lowered both the reported number of trafficking convictions and the average length of sentences.

Prioritization of labor trafficking remained a concern during the reporting period, and law enforcement efforts remained low compared with sex trafficking. Compared with 2018 (21 investigations), the government decreased its labor trafficking investigations in 2019 (14 investigations). In 2019, six suspects were prosecuted for labor trafficking and four traffickers were convicted, but only one labor trafficker served jail time, although it was under one year and therefore not a significant sentence. This compared with five prosecuted and four convicted in 2018, though none served jail time. Notable cases during the reporting period included four criminal proceedings, three of which remained ongoing, involving suspected Islamic State members accused of enslaving Yezidi women and children, with several charged with human trafficking offences committed outside Germany. The trials conducted in Germany are considered the first in the world for international crimes committed against the Yezidi population. In 2020, there were also several notable human trafficking cases that were overturned on appeal of the public prosecutor because the sentences were inadequate as the defendants were initially charged with lesser crimes instead of human trafficking; when the cases were heard again, courts issued more stringent penalties for human trafficking. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.

Frequent turnover, insufficient personnel, and limited dedicated trafficking resources hindered law enforcement efforts, sometimes leading to protracted court cases that were ultimately dismissed due to the statute of limitations or the unwillingness of victims to participate in prolonged proceedings. The federal criminal police (BKA) had dedicated human trafficking investigators. Most, but not all, states had dedicated anti-trafficking investigation units, and a couple of states had specialized prosecutors. Although prosecutors with experience assisting victims through trial processes frequently led sex trafficking cases, labor trafficking cases were more often assigned to financial, economic, or organized crime sections that lacked similar experience. The government and state-funded NGOs continued to organize and provide training to law enforcement officials, although civil society recommended increased labor trafficking training, specifically with regard to identifying migrant workers as trafficking victims. The government’s counseling centers for agencies and professionals working on trafficking cases continued to provide training to prosecutors on forced labor and provided new anti-trafficking training to local job center personnel; the government did not report how many officials it trained during the reporting period. A government-funded NGO delivered an online trafficking training for police and the Justice Ministry and another training at a police training academy but did not report how many officials received training. One state police academy held a two-day training on victim protection and a government-funded NGO held a labor trafficking training attended by 50 law enforcement and immigration officials from all 16 states. While judges could not be compelled to attend training courses, many voluntarily participated in some form of training including at the German Judicial Academy, though there were no human trafficking-specific courses available in 2020. The BKA maintained an information portal for federal and state police forces with information on current trends, guidelines, and investigative tools for combating trafficking. The Service Center against Labor Exploitation, Forced Labor and Trafficking in Human Beings (Servicestelle) also maintained an online platform that provided access to information on guidelines, agreements, and counseling centers for victims. Federal and state-level police continued to collaborate with EUROPOL and foreign governments, notably Kosovo, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Romania, and Switzerland on international trafficking investigations, which resulted in the arrest of at least one suspect. In 2019, Germany extradited 33 suspected traffickers to 12 countries and received eight trafficking suspects from three countries. The government began a joint investigation with the Government of Brazil of a suspected German sex tourist; at the close of the reporting period the investigation was ongoing.


The government maintained overall protection efforts, while increasing funding for NGO-run counseling centers. In 2019, the most recent year for which comprehensive statistics were available, state government authorities, who are responsible for protection efforts, identified 494 trafficking victims, similar to 503 victims identified in 2018. In 2019, government-funded NGOs identified 987 trafficking victims, although these victims may also have been counted in the government statistics, making the total number of identified victims uncertain. Of the government-identified victims, 427 were victims of sex trafficking (430 in 2018) and 67 of labor trafficking, which included one forced begging victim and 23 forced criminality victims. This compared with 73 labor trafficking victims identified in 2018, which included two forced begging victims and 8 forced criminality victims. Almost all sex trafficking victims were female (95 percent) and approximately 14 percent of all sex trafficking victims were children. The majority of identified sex trafficking victims were from Germany (22 percent), Thailand (21 percent), and Romania (17 percent). The majority of labor trafficking victims were from Ukraine and the majority of victims in forced criminality were from Belarus and Poland. Most labor trafficking victims were identified in the construction sector and private households in 2019. While the government did not report the total number of victims that received care, of the 427 identified sex trafficking victims, at least 116 received care, including 89 from specialized counseling centers and 27 from youth welfare offices. This was a decrease compared with 157 sex trafficking victims and 16 children referred to specialized counseling centers and youth welfare offices in 2018. The police continued to proactively identify human trafficking victims, but unlike prior years, the majority of sex trafficking victims in 2019 were self-identified. However, in its 2019 report, GRETA noted that the official figures of identified trafficking victims did not reflect the true scale of human trafficking in Germany due to the absence of a comprehensive and coherent approach to detecting and identifying victims, including among migrants and asylum seekers, problems with data collection, and insufficient prioritization of labor trafficking. Some NGOs reported the number of sex trafficking victims increased following the implementation of the prostitution law, while other NGOs continued to express concern that trafficking victims would either not register or register without disclosing trafficking crimes; despite this, sex trafficking victim identification did not correspondingly increase.

Germany did not have a single national victim identification or referral mechanism to address all forms of trafficking and both children and adults remained without systematic provision of care, though there was a national identification and cooperation guideline tool for children. At the federal level, there were procedures in place to identify and refer victims to care, but most victim care was handled at the state level. Each state had a separate system to refer victims to either state-run support or NGOs, and several states had written identification guidelines. In 2020, two government-funded NGOs published trafficking identification and indicator brochures, one of which included contact information for counseling centers in 15 of 16 states. Thirteen of 16 states also had formal cooperation agreements in place between police and NGOs for various purposes, but not all included all forms of trafficking, such as labor trafficking, forced begging, and forced criminality. The Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) continued to utilize its standard operating procedures and trafficking indicator lists to identify potential victims in the asylum protection system and made referrals to counseling centers, though NGOs continued to suggest improvements in victim identification. While foreign migrant and asylum-seeking victims were entitled to social benefits and deportation relief, unidentified victims among the asylum-seeking population remained vulnerable as they could be deported back to their first country of EU entrance without first receiving protection services. The government occasionally returned trafficking victims seeking to transfer asylum claims to Germany to their original arrival country, which sometimes included their traffickers. An NGO noted that during the reporting period officials increased scrutiny of trafficking victims seeking asylum, which could have left some victims unidentified within the asylum-seeking system. Civil society noted that non-specialized immigration and police officers rarely identified trafficking victims among the asylum-seeking and migrant populations, even when victims directly referenced trafficking experiences, especially if NGOs or counseling centers were not involved. A November 2020 NGO policy paper concluded that BAMF officers required additional training and resources to manage their workloads. Each BAMF branch office in Germany included at least one representative to assist in identifying and supporting potential trafficking victims, and BAMF had a total of 210 specialized personnel that could adjudicate asylum cases. The Prostitute Protection Act of 2016 required officials across all states to screen for trafficking indicators during registration of individuals in commercial sex and frequently resulted in officials identifying numerous individuals subjected to force, fraud, or coercion. The criminal procedure code exempted trafficking victims from criminal prosecution for minor unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, authorities occasionally arrested victims for immigration violations that may have been a result of their exploitation.

The government provided victim services through the Network against Trafficking in Human Beings (KOK), the government-funded NGO network charged with coordinating and overseeing victim support efforts across Germany. In 2020, national government funding for the KOK’s management operations was €500,000 ($613,500), the same as 2019. The government also allocated approximately €271,000 ($332,520) to the NGO that operated the Servicestelle, an increase from approximately €176,000 ($215,950) in 2019. State governments also supported trafficking victims and in 2020 allocated approximately €3.3 million ($4.05 million) to human trafficking NGOs. In 2020, the federal and state governments also funded several specific programs to directly address increasing costs of care due to the pandemic; the programs were broad and included funding for shelters and counseling centers for victims of crime, including trafficking victims. Government-funded NGO counseling centers served both labor and sex trafficking victims, although many centers only had a mandate to work with female sex trafficking victims. Trafficking-specific NGO service providers operated in 45 cities and 15 of 16 states, providing shelter, medical and psychological care, legal assistance, vocational support, and assistance acquiring residence permits. Trade union-affiliated and NGO-run migrant counseling centers also supported labor trafficking victims and had offices in every state. There was limited long-term or comprehensive support, including shelter, within these centers for children, transgender females, and male trafficking victims; KOK noted overall availability of services and shelters was inconsistent across states. In 2020, due to the pandemic, many shelters and counseling centers were temporarily closed or operated at a significantly reduced capacity, while other victim assistance services transitioned to virtual platforms, which limited access for some victims without internet.

Prosecutors, together with other authorities, offered undocumented victims a reflection period of three months to decide if they would testify in court, but the government did not report how many victims received this reflection period. Victims who agreed to testify were eligible for temporary residence permits, which allowed them to remain and work in Germany through the duration of the trial; however, the government did not report how many victims received permits during the reporting period. The law entitled victims to an interpreter and a third-party representative from a counseling center to accompany them to all interviews. The law provided legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship. After the completion of their trafficker’s trial, the law granted officials the authority to issue residence permits to victims in cases of humanitarian hardship, for public interest, or who faced injury or threats to life or freedom in their countries of origin; however, GRETA noted there were significant discrepancies from state to state in the application of the law. Further, in September 2020, the federal court ruled that immigration authorities failed to properly take into account the human trafficking situation an applicant would face upon deportation to their home country when they rejected the applicant and referred the application for reconsideration. Counseling centers reported specialized trafficking BAMF officers were not always involved or included in deportation hearings. Family members were eligible for residency in certain circumstances. Subject to certain requirements, victims could join criminal trials as joint plaintiffs and were entitled to free legal counsel, an interpreter, and pursuit of civil remedies as part of the criminal proceeding. While the law allowed for compensation from the government, it could only be awarded to victims who had experienced direct physical violence and the government did not report whether it awarded compensation to any victims during the reporting period. The government amended the Victims of Crime Act in November 2019 to address the requirement of physical violence and expand protections to include psychological violence once it enters into force in January 2024; this may result in more restitution awards to trafficking victims. The government reported awarding restitution to two sex trafficking victims during the reporting period as a result of civil suits filed in conjunction with criminal charges (compared to none in the prior reporting period). NGOs and GRETA reported that victims were not systematically informed of their rights. The law allowed victims to submit video testimony. During the reporting period, the government took measures to lessen the burden on victims and their potential re-traumatization by trying to reduce the number of times they had to testify in trials, sometimes not requiring them to do so. The government offered witness protection as needed, and police would accompany witnesses to trials; in 2020, the government provided a total of 13 trafficking victims witness protection compared with 17 in 2019.


The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. Germany remained without a national action plan for all forms of trafficking; however, the government did have a draft strategy to combat labor trafficking. The government did not have a dedicated national anti-trafficking coordination committee addressing all forms of trafficking but had three federal-state interagency working groups that coordinated with each other and addressed all forms of trafficking. The government working groups met four times in 2020 to discuss a variety of antitrafficking efforts, including the appointment of a national rapporteur, identification of and services to child victims, online exploitation, and worker protections in the construction industry. Additionally, in 2020, the government created a separate division in the Federal Ministry for Families, Seniors, Women, and Youth (BMFSFJ) to coordinate human trafficking efforts at the international level and national efforts on sex trafficking, whereas the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs coordinated efforts on labor trafficking. BMFSFJ facilitated the development of several pandemic-related response programs for trafficking victims and advocated for increased attention for labor and child trafficking. The government remained without a national rapporteur, a key recommendation of GRETA’s 2019 and 2015 reports. The government continued to publish its annual report on human trafficking. The government directly organized one national awareness raising campaign, which focused on violence against women but included information on sex trafficking; the government also organized one regional awareness campaign that focused on sex trafficking and displayed 2,000 posters in strategic places. The federal government, through NGOs, co-funded various awareness events and conferences, including a project implemented by KOK targeting trafficking victims in the context of asylum and international protections, a seminar attended by 70 participants from the government and NGOs, and 19 other events during the reporting period. The federal government did not have a trafficking-specific hotline but continued to fund a 24/7 hotline in 17 languages for women affected by violence; in 2019, the hotline received calls from 96 potential trafficking victims (compared with 68 in 2018), but no further information was available. Additionally, the government had several other national and regional hotlines for sexual violence and male victims of violence, including trafficking, in addition to a government-funded NGO-operated national helpline for migrant workers; however, statistics on trafficking victims were unavailable for these hotlines.

Inadequate oversight, fraudulent labor recruitment, and the continued vulnerability of migrant and seasonal workers remained concerns during the reporting period. While there were some regulations in place to protect migrant workers from labor recruiters and exploitative companies, including subcontracting companies, they were not effective, and the government did not report holding any civilly or criminally liable for fraudulent recruiting or labor trafficking during the reporting period. The law allowed German labor recruiters to charge up to €2,000 ($2,450) in recruitment fees to non-temporary workers. Private labor recruiters did not require a license to operate. Though the government limited the number of seasonal workers during the reporting period due to the pandemic, some of the measures put into place increased trafficking vulnerabilities, including the inability for many workers to change their employer after arrival. There were also reports from NGOs that German agricultural companies were withholding identification documents from migrant workers and not complying with regulations regarding minimum wage, working hours, and hygiene conditions. In 2020, the government passed laws aimed at increasing protections for migrant workers by requiring government funding for counseling services, limiting the number of subcontracting companies in the meat processing industry, expanding inspection mandates, increasing penalties, and electronically tracking work hours. The Federal Customs Financial Control of Illegal Work (FKS) office reported conducting 44,702 labor inspections in 2020 compared with 54,733 in 2019. In one operation, FKS investigated 45 people and initiated 19 criminal proceedings, the majority of which were against foreign workers for illegal employment-related crimes, but also included several cases of wage-related labor exploitation and false documentation.

While the government did not systematically provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel prior to their departure, for domestic workers employed by embassies in Berlin, authorities conducted annual in-person interviews without employers present and required proof of salary and informed workers of their rights. The government previously extended the mandate of FKS to include trafficking, thereby increasing staff that could potentially identify forced labor victims. However, FKS did not have the authority to perform labor inspections of workers in domestic households – where most labor trafficking victims were identified – without the homeowners’ consent, increasing vulnerability to trafficking. In 2020 the government initiated a bilateral labor agreement with the Government of Romania and signed two bilateral labor agreements with the Governments of Bulgaria and Georgia, which focused on the protection of vulnerable migrant workers, but they have yet to be implemented. The government partnered with Bulgaria and produced a brochure on Bulgarian workers’ rights and available services for distribution in Germany. The government provided funding to several anti-trafficking programs abroad, including Mauritania and Niger. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. During the reporting period, the government demonstrated efforts to reduce the demand for international sex tourism by German nationals through an awareness campaign and through a joint investigation of a suspected German sex tourist with the Government of Brazil. In May 2020, the Government of Kenya arrested a German national for sex trafficking and child sex tourism; however, information on cooperation with Germany was unavailable.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Germany. The pandemic exacerbated vulnerabilities for trafficking victims, including increased isolation of migrant and seasonal workers as well as sex trafficking victims, which complicated detection by officials and NGOs. Sex traffickers increasingly use online platforms to recruit, exploit victims, and book apartment rentals to make their illicit operations difficult to track, in part because of the pandemic. Most identified sex trafficking victims in Germany are EU citizens, primarily German citizens, Bulgarians, and Romanians (of which a significant percentage are ethnic Roma). Victims also come from most other regions of the world, particularly China, Thailand, Nigeria, and other parts of Africa. Transgender women from Thailand are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking and are often misled regarding their working conditions and wages prior to their arrival. Family members in organized groups force victims into trafficking situations and reports estimate around 11 percent of sex trafficking victims are recruited by trusted family members. Similarly, Roma families sometimes force their children, both male and female, into commercial sex on the streets. Authorities continue to report the prevalence of young male traffickers, known as “lover boys,” coercing girls and women into sex trafficking, often through a sham romantic relationship. Traffickers continued to target migrants and refugees upon arrival. Traffickers, namely Nigerian “madams”, continue to fraudulently recruit and later coerce Nigerian women and girls to stay in exploitative situations using a “voodoo oath” they are forced to swear, while Nigerian “fraternities” increasingly recruit victims through force. Some NGOs report that the number of sex trafficking victims increased over the first few years following the implementation of the 2016 prostitution law. The Nigerian and European mafias increasingly cooperate to facilitate human trafficking from Africa. Several foreign governments continue to report German citizens engage in sex tourism abroad. Labor trafficking victims are predominantly male and European, including from North Macedonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania, but also Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Vietnam. Traffickers exploit victims of forced labor primarily at construction sites, but also in hotels, seasonal industries, restaurants, and in private homes, with reported increases in the number of child victims. Foreign workers are vulnerable to labor trafficking, particularly in meat processing plants, and especially when companies hire employees through subcontractors, who may have used fraudulent practices to recruit workers to the jobs. Traffickers subject Roma and foreign unaccompanied minors to sex trafficking, forced begging, and other coerced criminal behavior.