Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Portugal

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Portugal, 19 June 2012, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Portugal is a destination, transit, and source country for women, men, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Trafficking victims found in Portugal originate in Brazil, Eastern Europe, and Africa. According to the government, an increasing number of underage Portuguese girls are subjected to forced prostitution within the country. Men from Eastern European countries and Brazil are subjected to forced labor in agriculture, construction, hotels, and restaurants. Portuguese men and women are subjected to forced labor or forced prostitution after migrating to other destinations in Europe. Children from Eastern Europe, including Roma, are subjected to forced begging, sometimes by their families. Over half of the trafficking victims certified by the government in 2011 were male.

The Government of Portugal does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the government took important steps to improve its capacity to proactively identify trafficking victims and conducted multiple anti-trafficking awareness programs. However it did not provide evidence that the majority of convicted trafficking offenders received prison sentences or were held accountable during the reporting period. In 2010, the government reported at least three convictions under its anti-trafficking law for the trafficking offense of pimping children. Preliminary reports indicate that the government achieved at least seven convictions for sex trafficking. The government includes data on non-coercive activities in statistics on its anti-trafficking prosecution efforts. As a result, the number of convictions reported by the government significantly outnumbers the number of identified victims, making law enforcement data collection efforts difficult to assess. Relative to other countries in the region, the Portuguese government reported a low number of certified trafficking victims.

Recommendations for Portugal: Improve the integrity of law enforcement data to reflect clearly those offenses that constitute human trafficking as defined by the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; provide data that proves Portugal vigorously prosecutes and convicts trafficking offenders, sentencing them to punishment that reflects the gravity of their crimes; consider the use of a case-based approach to document forced prostitution and forced labor cases and other trafficking-specific law enforcement efforts; consider raising the mandatory minimum sentence under Article 160 to ensure that convicted traffickers are held accountable and do not receive suspended sentences; continue to improve outreach to locate more potential trafficking victims in Portugal and explore more holistic, victim-centered methods of identification; develop specialized assistance and shelter for trafficked children and men; expand shelter capacity to provide comprehensive assistance to victims throughout Portugal; involve NGOs in efforts to stabilize potential victims in a post-raid environment and ensure trafficking victims are referred for care and assistance that allows them sufficient time to recover from their trafficking experiences; ensure adequate funding for NGOs providing critical assistance to victims; and undertake a comprehensive national awareness program to educate government officials, front-line responders, and the public about all forms of trafficking in Portugal.


Because the law defines "trafficking in persons" in an overly-broad fashion to include lesser crimes and the courts suspend sentences of five years or less, it is difficult to assess the extent to which the Government of Portugal prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced trafficking offenders during the reporting period. Portugal prohibits both forced labor and forced prostitution through Article 160 of its penal code, which prescribes penalties of three to 12 years' imprisonment – penalties sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, Article 160 includes an overly broad definition of trafficking that encompasses exploitative, non-coerced activity, resulting in government trafficking data that likely includes charges under pimping and pandering statutes as well as low-level labor violations. In 2010, the most recent year for which compiled data was available, the government reportedly initiated 28 new investigations and prosecuted 138 new cases under Article 160 which may have included human trafficking. The government reported that 97 of these cases resulted in convictions, but could only confirm that three of these were human trafficking cases under the "pimping children" provision (of Article 160) and that all three convictions resulted in a prison sentence. Although the government did not provide specific sentencing data for these convictions, under Portugal's penal code, courts are not allowed to impose physical incarceration as punishment when a sentence involves less than five years' imprisonment. Accordingly, the three persons convicted of pimping children likely were sentenced to more than five years' imprisonment. Reports indicate that the government may have also convicted at least seven sex trafficking offenders, but this could not be confirmed. By comparison, in 2009, the Portuguese government reported that it prosecuted 179 defendants who had been indicated under Article 160 and confirmed that eight of those 179 suspects were convicted of crimes that involved coerced prostitution of adults and sex trafficking of children, seven of whom were sentenced to an average of 12 years' imprisonment.

Because of the paucity of data provided for the reporting period, it is presumed that the government did not vigorously prosecute, convict, or sentence trafficking-specific offenders during the year. The government advised that the closed nature of the judicial system and strict privacy laws made it difficult to provide accurate and reliable statistics about government efforts to prosecute crimes that explicitly involve coerced prostitution and forced labor.

Pursuant to a memorandum of understanding signed in January 2012 between the government's Observatory on Trafficking in Human Beings (OSTH) and Portugal's justice sector, the OSTH is attempting to improve the quality of the data it receives on traffickers arrested by law enforcement officials and to better monitor the progress of accused traffickers through the criminal justice system.

The government reported it continued its investigation of 12 suspected traffickers stemming from the February 2011 Operation Roadblock, through which 30 sex trafficking victims were discovered. Because of the closed nature of its judicial system, the government could not confirm whether the 12 suspects were undergoing prosecution. Consistent with Portuguese legal practice, the government did not provide evidence that it had provided the victims in the case with care in conjunction with the government's continuing investigation. During the reporting year, the parliament passed a law criminalizing the use of the labor of trafficking and smuggling victims. The new law makes it easier to prosecute employers who cooperate with labor traffickers and provides criminal penalties of up to 10 years in prison for such offenses. During the reporting period, Portugal established additional specialized training programs to improve law enforcement efforts in the field of anti-trafficking. For example, in October 2011, during the European Day against Trafficking in Human Beings, government officials, including the secretary of state for parliamentary affairs and equality, held a special anti-trafficking training event in the city of Coimbra. The government also convened an anti-trafficking colloquium for law enforcement agencies responsible for anti-trafficking efforts. The government reported that there were no prosecutions or convictions of officials for trafficking-related complicity in 2011.


The Government of Portugal took some steps to improve its capacity to identify trafficking victims during the reporting period. In July 2011, the government began disseminating a "trafficking indicator card" to assist law enforcement officials in detecting trafficking victims. The government reported that it continued to employ standardized procedures for identifying trafficking victims. It certified 23 official trafficking victims in 2011 out of 71 potential victims flagged by its database, compared to 22 officially certified victims out of 86 potential victims in 2010, an increase of one. However, half of these victims were identified through referrals from Spanish counterparts rather than by Portuguese authorities. Under the government's identification system, law enforcement agencies and NGOs are required to submit form reports of suspected victims to a central government observatory; this form is then reviewed by the judicial police or the national coordinator to verify a victim's status. The government does not officially finalize victim status. A victim's status may change if, during the course of an investigation, it is established that the status was determined incorrectly. In an effort to be transparent, the government adjusted the number of certified victims in 2010 from 21 to 16, but did not specify the reasons for the reduction. Nevertheless, the government offered all potential and identified victims assistance early in the process, regardless of an ultimate determination of certification of the victim's status.

The government continued to subsidize an NGO shelter and provided the equivalent of $136,560 towards the operation of the shelter. Authorities referred four victims to the shelter for care in 2011, the same number they referred in 2010. The government did not provide information on the level of assistance provided to the other nineteen certified victims in 2011 or the other 48 potential trafficking victims identified by the government's database. A total of 11 trafficking victims stayed at the shelter during the reporting period. Victims were permitted to leave the shelter after undergoing a security assessment by shelter staff. Local experts noted that the shelter was the only designated shelter for trafficking victims. The government did not provide evidence that it provided any financial assistance to other NGOs assisting victims in Portugal or information on whether other NGOs assisted any trafficking victims in 2011. The government reportedly encouraged victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, but did not provide further details on the extent of their cooperation. The government reported that all identified victims are permitted a 30- to 60-day reflection period to decide whether they wished to participate in a criminal investigation. The government provided foreign victims of trafficking with short-term legal alternatives to their removal from the country. Victims who cooperate with law enforcement authorities are eligible for a one-year residency permit, which can be renewed. Trafficking victims can be eligible to obtain permanent residency in Portugal under Article 109 of Immigration Law No. 23 of July 4, 2007 and Decree-Law 368 of November 5, 2007. The number of residence permits granted by the government declined in 2011; three such permits were granted to trafficking victims in 2011, compared to 10 permits in 2010. The government reported that police made proactive efforts to identify sex trafficking victims within the legal prostitution sector. However, it is not known what happened to those victims who were not so identified.


The Government of Portugal made appreciable efforts to improve its prevention of trafficking during the year. It produced and sponsored public service announcements raising awareness about human trafficking on a major television network. The government also provided pamphlets and posters about human trafficking to its embassies around the world. Portugal's Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality was charged with coordinating the government's anti-trafficking efforts. During the reporting period, the OSTH launched a Facebook page to promote public awareness of human trafficking and sponsored an exhibition on human trafficking that is currently making its way through major Portuguese municipalities in conjunction with conferences aimed at the local population and students. Portugal has an action plan to combat trafficking that is valid through 2013. During the reporting period, the government maintained a website about its anti-trafficking efforts. The government produced a monitoring report of its anti-trafficking efforts in September. The government's existing hotline for immigrants is not specifically designed for trafficking victims. Local experts believed the cost of using the hotline and various numbers associated with it contributed to lack of use by potential trafficking victims. The government did not report any efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not report any efforts to reduce participation in international child sex tourism by Portuguese nationals. During the reporting year, the minister of interior announced a proposal to develop a pilot project to establish a system for tracking trafficking cases in the European Union in cooperation with other EU countries. The government provided anti-trafficking awareness training to troops before their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions. Portugal continued its bilateral cooperation with Brazil by developing an anti-trafficking campaign for potential trafficking victims in Brazil. The government continued to take a leading role in assisting other Lusophone countries, including Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Guinea-Bissau, and Brazil, in implementing the UN-promoted anti-trafficking campaign "You're not for sale."

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