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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 identifying more potential trafficking victims; allocating more funds to a women’s helpline that supported victims of violence, including trafficking; and funding the digitalization of the national referral mechanism (NRM), the development of guidelines for authorities and frontline professionals, and improvements to the identification and investigative processes. In response to the inflow of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the government established protocols to screen for potential trafficking victims on public transportation; developed a manual for border police including information on temporary residency, victim assistance, recognizing trafficking indicators, and identifying potential victims; and provided financial support to mitigate trafficking risks among those fleeing Ukraine. Furthermore, the government launched a new web-based training on the sexual exploitation of children, including trafficking, and an information campaign to combat work-related crimes, including forced labor. The government also cooperated with regional partners in conducting a study aimed at identifying methods and tools used by employment agencies to recruit individuals to work under exploitative conditions. Although the government meets the minimum standards, authorities investigated, prosecuted, and convicted fewer trafficking cases. Courts issued most convicted traffickers sentences of less than one year imprisonment, which weakened deterrence, did not adequately reflect the nature of the crime, and undercut broader efforts to fight trafficking. Additionally, authorities identified significantly fewer potential trafficking victims among asylum-seekers and unaccompanied children. Moreover, the government continued to provide inconsistent funding to NGOs for assistance to victims hindering their ability to comply with obligations and demand. Finally, the level of assistance to victims was conditional on their cooperation with investigations and prosecutions.

  • Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers under the trafficking statute and punish them with significant prison terms.
  • Proactively identify trafficking victims, including among asylum-seekers and unaccompanied children.
  • Provide clear procedures for identifying child victims and train relevant workers to recognize trafficking indicators.
  • Ensure all victims have full, unconditional access to assistance, regardless of whether they cooperate with authorities.
  • Introduce a sustainable financial mechanism for consistent funding to NGOs and the national support program (NSP).
  • Provide adequate assistance and opportunity for recovery to all foreign victims by allowing additional government actors, including municipal social services, to apply for residence permits.
  • Increase efforts to identify labor trafficking victims and investigate, 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 decreased law enforcement efforts. 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 crime 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. Chapter 6 Section 9 criminalized the purchase of commercial sex acts from a child and prescribed penalties of up to four years’ imprisonment. Pandemic-related entry restrictions significantly reduced the inflow of asylum-seekers into Sweden, hindering investigations, prosecutions, and convictions. In 2021, police investigated 141 trafficking cases (67 sex trafficking, 24 labor trafficking, 50 unspecified) and 78 human exploitation cases, compared with 191 and 80, respectively, in 2020. Authorities prosecuted 12 alleged traffickers and convicted eight traffickers (four sex trafficking, four labor trafficking), a decrease from 21 prosecutions and 12 convictions in 2020. Sentences ranged from two months’ imprisonment and a fine to three years’ and nine months’ imprisonment and a fine. The majority of sentences issued to convicted traffickers (63 percent) were less than one year imprisonment; such lenient sentences weakened deterrence, did not adequately reflect the nature of the crime, and undercut broader efforts to fight trafficking. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking crimes. In 2021, Swedish authorities collaborated with foreign governments on transnational investigations and continued cooperation within the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats. Authorities of 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.

The Gender Equality Agency (GEA), which managed anti-trafficking efforts for the government, maintained regional coordinators throughout the country who assisted police and judicial authorities with trafficking cases, implemented training, and conducted outreach work. In addition, the National Police and the Migration Agency maintained coordinators focusing exclusively on leading their respective agencies’ anti-trafficking efforts. In 2021, the police trafficking rapporteur and agency coordinator conducted online training for police, judges, and agency staff. The National Police offered trafficking training for police officers, including new recruits, 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, NGOs 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 maintained victim protection efforts. In 2021, the GEA regional coordinators identified 481 potential victims (244 sex trafficking, 189 labor trafficking, 47 unspecified, one forced military service), an increase from 320 in 2020 and 404 in 2019. Of the 481 potential victims, 53 were children, and one was a Swedish citizen. Separately, the Migration Agency maintained statistics on identified victims; double counting likely occurred across agencies. In 2021, the Migration Agency identified 261 potential trafficking victims among asylum-seekers, a decrease from 366 in 2020. Of the 261 potential victims, 21 were children—a significant decrease (more than 50 percent) from 48 in 2020. Experts 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. Authorities and frontline professionals utilized the existing NRM to identify victims and refer them to protection services. However, only authorities involved in legal investigations, such as police, could officially identify trafficking victims. NGOs asserted the police needed further training on identifying potential victims and on the subsequent implementation of victim protection services. In 2021, the GEA funded and collaborated with an organization to digitize the NRM, develop a manual with relevant information for authorities and frontline professionals, and improve processes to identify victims and apprehend traffickers by outlining responsibilities of each authority throughout the various phases of the case process and training frontline professionals on recognizing trafficking indicators and responding accordingly.

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. While undocumented migrants, who made up the vast majority of identified victims, could obtain emergency medical care, additional 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 them in foster care or group housing. There was no separate dedicated protected housing available solely for male trafficking victims, but male trafficking victims were eligible for group protected housing. The GEA 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 accommodation when shelters had reached maximum capacity. In 2021, the government allocated 13 million Swedish krona (SEK) ($1.44 million) to strengthen the GEA’s efforts to combat trafficking, including for regional coordinators, an international organization’s return program, and the national support program (NSP)—a civil society platform representing 20 NGOs that provided assistance to victims. The NSP offered the only effective unconditional assistance provided to victims and complemented the support services offered under the NRM. The program focused on victims who in their current state did not have a right to assistance through the formal system and provided a 30-day reflection period to encourage victims to report crimes to police. Over the years, funding for the NSP fluctuated—2.04 million SEK ($226,040) in 2021, 2.1 million SEK ($232,690) in 2020; zero in 2019; 800,000 SEK ($88,640) in 2018; and zero in 2017. NGOs criticized the government for providing inadequate funds to the NSP to comply with obligations and demand.

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 proposed allowing additional government actors, including municipal social services, to apply for residence permits on behalf of victims. Pending parliament’s approval, the government projected implementation in 2023. Foreign victims who cooperated with authorities received temporary residence permits, which allowed them to seek employment; 63 trafficking victims received permits in 2021 (60 in 2020). The government assigned a legal representative to provide victims with support and assistance throughout criminal proceedings. However, legal aid was only available to individuals whose annual income did not exceed 260,000 SEK ($28,810) and did not already have insurance that covered the dispute in question. Swedish law entitled trafficking victims to request restitution from traffickers as part of criminal proceedings as well as file civil suits for financial compensation. In 2021, six victims received 469,704 SEK ($52,040) in restitution, compared with 10 victims who received 773,505 SEK ($85,710) in 2020.

In response to the inflow of refugees fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the government established protocols to screen for potential trafficking victims on public transportation and developed a manual for border police including information on temporary residency, victim assistance, recognizing trafficking indicators, and identifying potential victims. Additionally, the police and the national rapporteur produced pamphlets in English and Ukrainian with information on recognizing and reporting suspicious individuals and criminal behavior to the police. Authorities distributed the pamphlets at all border crossings, ferries, airports, and train stations. Furthermore, the GEA provided 4 million SEK ($443,210) for mitigating trafficking risks among those fleeing Ukraine. In April 2022, NGOs and police identified sex trafficking victims among Ukrainian women, who upon arriving in Sweden were exploited in commercial sex. Authorities initiated a preliminary investigation into one potential sex trafficking case and filed four additional reports for potential trafficking-related crimes. The Migration Agency expressed concern about potential trafficking cases among a small number of Ukrainian children, who arrived in Sweden with guardians other than their parents; in some cases, the guardian certificates could not be confirmed. The agency also expressed concern about some women arriving alone and women with children, who left their agency-assigned accommodation without providing any contact details or information. According to the agency, nearly 25,000 Ukrainian citizens applied for temporary protection as of March 2022; the Migration Agency approved more than 10,000 temporary residence permits for Ukrainians, including 120 unaccompanied children, and processed the remaining 15,000 applicants. To meet the immediate needs for incoming refugees, the government converted sports halls and vacant hotels into temporary housing and provided 2,000 SEK ($222) per month to Ukrainian refugees along with the right to employment and education. Children could receive full medical care, while adults could access medical care for urgent needs.

The government increased prevention efforts. The GEA was responsible for implementation of the national action plan (NAP), which focused on combating and preventing commercial sex and trafficking and providing better protection and support for those vulnerable to trafficking. NGOs raised concerns about the lack of resources dedicated to the plan, citing funding of the NSP as unsustainable for the demand. Furthermore, NGOs recommended the government update the NAP to better include labor trafficking and establish strategic objectives with specific assignments, budgets, and deadlines. In addition to the NAP, the government continued to implement its comprehensive action program to prevent and combat men’s violence against women, including trafficking. The GEA 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. 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. Furthermore, in 2021, the GEA launched a new web-based training on the sexual exploitation of children, including trafficking, and continued its online campaign on safe travel abroad with new brochures for vulnerable populations. A national anti-trafficking taskforce, which comprised about 20 representatives from authorities on trafficking issues, including the National Police Board, the Migration Agency, and the Prosecutor’s Office, functioned as a strategic resource to develop and streamline cooperation between government agencies and other stakeholders; created relevant educational material and conducted training; managed, in cooperation with an international organization, a program for the safe return of trafficking victims; and operated a helpline for potential trafficking victims to receive support and advice. Separately, a Swedish university operated a 24-hour national women’s helpline that supported victims of violence, including trafficking, and received 20 million SEK ($2.22 million) from the government in 2021, an increase from 10 million SEK ($1.11 million) in 2019 and 2020. Sweden and France continued to conduct a joint campaign raising awareness on sex trafficking.

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 government maintained a website with information on child sexual exploitation, resources available to victims, and a way to report suspected child trafficking cases. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by continuing to implement its law criminalizing the purchase of sexual acts from a child (Chapter 6, Sections 9 and 11). The government also continued to perform an assessment of the law examining its effectiveness and application with the goal to reveal how the judicial system handled 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. Experts recommended better interagency coordination to facilitate the identification of labor trafficking cases and increased awareness among the public. In 2021, the GEA launched an information campaign with films about four different industries to combat work-related crimes, including trafficking. In cooperation with Lithuania and Poland, the government conducted a study aimed at identifying recruitment methods and tools used by employment agencies to recruit individuals to work under exploitative conditions. Subsequently, the government proposed improved labor protections for third-country nationals working in Sweden to strengthen regulations that would ensure employers fulfilled worker agreements and did not charge illegal recruitment fees. Additionally, in September 2021, the government established a national taskforce to address work-related crimes, including labor trafficking, that contributed to the opening of regional centers that specialized in combating work-related crime, through conducting work-place inspections, collaborating with unions and trade organizations, providing training on how to recognize trafficking victims, and conducting educational outreach. Furthermore, in 2021, the GEA and the Council of Baltic Seas States announced plans to launch a project to educate potential labor migrants arriving in Sweden, or planning to arrive, about the risks of labor trafficking via a public-service announcement video to appear on social media platforms and websites. Authorities continued to conduct mandatory interviews with foreign workers employed in at-risk sectors who were 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 provided training on trafficking and 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. The government commissioned multiple agencies to develop joint processes to counter fraud, rule violations, and labor-related crimes, including forced labor. The government participated in a multi-country anti-trafficking taskforce that evaluated trafficking related to migration flows.

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. Most sex 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 Swedes traveling abroad, primarily to East Asia, for the purpose of child sex tourism is prevalent. 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. In some cases, employers or contractors providing labor seize the passports of workers and withhold their pay. Other reported incidents include deteriorated conditions for foreign workers in the construction sector, such as low salaries, lack of official employment contracts, and poor living situations. Since 2010, there has been an increase in labor trafficking cases, including during the pandemic as the country’s borders remained open most of that time, which led individuals to move to Sweden for work. 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 are 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. The Migration Agency reported a substantial reduction in the number of asylum cases as a consequence of the pandemic, receiving approximately 11,500 applications (523 from unaccompanied children), compared with 13,000 (492) in 2020, 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 2021. 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. Thousands of refugees, predominantly women and children, who are fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and seeking sanctuary in Sweden, are highly vulnerable to trafficking. Reports indicate several identified sex trafficking victims among Ukrainian women who, upon their arrival in Sweden, were exploited in commercial sex.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future