What is trafficking in human beings? 

Human trafficking is a serious offence in which the offender uses different methods to subject the victim to exploitation, and in many cases, this is done to achieve financial gain. Usually, the victims are deprived of their freedom of choice and exploited sexually or otherwise, or they are forced to work in conditions that do not meet legal requirements.

Human trafficking may be international and cross-border in nature, or it may take place entirely within Finnish borders. Human trafficking may also take place within a family or in other close human relationships. Human trafficking is rarely a single act of exploitation, and it often involves a long process of subordination and exercise of power.

The offender may exploit the vulnerable position of the victim, such as poverty, homelessness, serious illness or substance abuse. The victim may be dependent on the offender or offenders because of such factors as for example family relationship, job or debts. By exploiting these and other factors, the offenders are gradually able to bring the victims under their control and as a result, the victims are deprived of their freedom of choice and their ability to break away from the relationship. Despite being outwardly free and acting in the same way as any other member of society, the individual in question may nevertheless be a victim of human trafficking for example involving sexual exploitation or forced labour.

The exploitation may not necessarily be noticed by others, and human trafficking is one category of hidden crime. The invisible nature and many forms of human trafficking make it difficult to identify. For example, a cleaner in the local grocery or a waitress in a restaurant may in reality be a victim of work-related human trafficking. The fact that for restaurant customers, it is almost impossible to know the situation of the waitress serving them reflects the hidden nature of the phenomenon.

In Finland, human trafficking has been criminalised under Chapter 25, sections 3 and 3 a of the Criminal Code. Definition of human trafficking is based on international agreements, such as the protocols supplementing the Palermo Convention of the United Nations. The right of the victims of human trafficking to receive assistance is also based on international agreements. 

There are several types of human trafficking, including for example 
•    sexual exploitation
•    labour exploitation
•    forced marriage
•    child trafficking and forced adoption
•    forced begging and forced criminal activity
•    trade in human organs and tissues

For more information about human trafficking, visit the website www.ihmiskauppa.fi, which is maintained by Finland’s national assistance system for victims of human trafficking.

Related content

null Speech at the Soft security and Migration in the Baltic Sea Region -seminar

Speech at the Soft security and Migration in the Baltic Sea Region -seminar

Soft security and Migration in the Baltic Sea Region


House of the Estates, Helsinki

Yhdenvertaisuusvaltuutettu Kirsi Pimiä

Your Excellencies, Ladies and gentleman,

First of all, I want to thank for the kind invitation to come here and comment Mr Ambrosi’s key note speech. It was a pleasure to listen to your views, which I can largely agree on.

The Finnish Non-Discrimination Ombudsman is an independent authority and a part of the Finnish human rights architecture aiming to enhance the protection of human rights, especially of those who are most vulnerable in society. The work of the Ombudsman has three different connection points on today’s seminar. First, the Alien Act provides the Ombudsman a special status to be heard of on asylum applications and deportations and in this way supervise the fulfillment of rights of the alien in Finland. Secondly, the Ombudsman is the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and thirdly the Ombudsman is the monitor of the removal from the country. These duties and unlimited right of information gives us an excellent chance for overview the Finnish Migration Policy and its implementation by different authorities.

The autumn 2015 with 25 000 refugees in few months was a big shock here in Finland in many ways. Our immigration structures were, understandably, not prepared for such many asylum seekers. Overall, authorities together with NGOs handled the situation well – the Finnish way - conscientiously. Since then – and here I share the impression of Mr Ambrosi – it seems that the government has made decisions merely in terms of preventing flows of asylum seekers and aiming to diminish the rights of the asylum seekers in many ways. I am concerned of the level of legal protection of the asylum seekers in Finland. Especially of those, who are in more vulnerable situation.

Trafficking in human beings is a serious violation of human rights and an offence to the dignity and integrity of individuals. In international law, a state’s responsibility is to prevent trafficking in human beings, provide victims with assistance and protection and investigate trafficking offences as part of the implementation of the prohibition of slavery and forced labour. The real challenge is how to fulfil these rights in practise for each victim.

The international community has accepted that victims of trafficking constitute a special group of people and entitled to certain rights that must be protected by the state, irrespective of their status in immigration law. Even though Finland does not have an obligation to grant a residence permit to victims of trafficking in all circumstances, as a party to international human rights treaties Finland must take active steps to prevent re-trafficking of the victims of trafficking and facilitate their social reintegration in the receiving state when they have been refused entry. The lack of legal migration pathways, tightened rules for family reunification, denial of reception centre services act quite the contrary.

According to the EU’s Return Directive, the fundamental rights and dignity of the person to be removed from the country must be respected. The duty set in the directive to monitor the enforcement of the removal from the country in all of its stages was given to the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman 2014.  The purpose of the monitoring of removals from the country is to develop the return process in order to make it more humane, while ensuring respect for human rights. Forced returns may be difficult for both returnees and the authorities enforcing them.  

According to the Committee Against Torture, return operations involve an obvious risk of inhuman treatment. Monitoring can enhance legal protection of the both parties. Forced returns have clear connection to soft security in many ways. For the first time in Finnish history the forced returns have faced civil protests and demonstrations as people have reacted against deportations to Iraq and Afghanistan.

I see monitoring of returns as a good way to enhance the trust to police work, as well as, in authorities in general. Though this requires that police gives us the information needed to do our work timely in all stages of return. With respect to individual returnees, the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman must take account of privacy protection and secrecy obligations. Returns also involve numerous confidential matters from the policing viewpoint. The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman and individual monitors do not disclose information, either in advance or afterwards, on return operations or their implementation.

In his speech, Mr. Ambrosi was longing for more of a long term perspective, a broader migration agenda, more unity and solidarity among European states than short-sighted reactions, pure nationalism and deterrence. We should keep in mind that security threats do not all come from outside, they are partly made by ourselves i.e. by making political decisions that will lead to growing number of undocumented migrants, people who have no permit to stay and cannot be returned either.

So, it is easy to agree what Mr Ambrosi said.  European governments should facilitate and increase legal pathways, which would help them to predict amounts of refugees, to make pragmatic decisions about quotas, hosting costs and to enhance benefits to the economy. The EU should continue the reform of the Common European Asylum System in order to move towards efficient, fair and humane asylum system. Easy to say more difficult to accomplish. For that reason, it is important to continue the discussion on the topic also in this conference.

Thank you.