Hungary: New report calls for improving access to justice and legal remedies for human trafficking victims


In a report published on February 26, the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) calls on the Hungarian authorities to take further action against human trafficking, notably by improving the assistance provided to victims of trafficking and their access to legal aid and compensation, and by strengthening measures to combat trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation.

The report notes that the number of identified human trafficking victims in Hungary (754 victims in 2019-2022) significantly increased compared to the period covered by GRETA’s second evaluation report. Most identified victims were women, while children represented around 16%. Sexual exploitation remains the main form of exploitation, but trafficking for labour exploitation has increased.

The report notes a number of positive developments since the publication of GRETA’s second evaluation report on Hungary as regards the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. These include the adoption of a new National Anti-Trafficking Strategy, as well as guidelines issued by the Office of the Prosecutor General to facilitate the detection and prosecution of human trafficking cases.

GRETA welcomes the amendments made to the Legal Aid Act, through which human trafficking victims can obtain free legal aid in criminal, civil and administrative proceedings. However, the report notes that, in practice, victims have limited access to free legal aid, and urges the Hungarian authorities to ensure that victims have unrestricted access to free legal aid by professional lawyers with specialised knowledge of trafficking in human beings.

GRETA is concerned than only a few victims of trafficking have received compensation from the perpetrators or the state and urges the authorities to systematically inform victims of their right to claim compensation, to make full use of the existing legislation on the seizure and confiscation of criminal assets, as well as to simplify the application procedures for state compensation.

The report notes that the number of prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking and related offences has increased in recent years. However, a number of gaps remain in the criminal justice response to human trafficking. GRETA considers that the authorities should ensure that human trafficking offences for different forms of exploitation, including cases involving domestic servitude, are proactively and promptly investigated.

GRETA welcomes the adoption of stricter rules concerning the registration and operation of temporary employment agencies, which corresponds to a prior GRETA recommendation. Nonetheless, GRETA considers that the authorities should increase the number of labour inspectors, proactively investigate cases involving persons exploited in domestic servitude, and strengthen multi-agency co-operation to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of labour exploitation cases. 

While welcoming the amendment to Hungary’s Minor Offences Act, which precludes punishment of children for the provision of sexual services, GRETA urges the Hungarian authorities to adopt a specific legal provision and/or guidance on the non-punishment of victims of trafficking, and to provide training to the relevant authorities.

GRETA is moreover concerned by the lack of identification of victims among children in residential institutional care, even if the number of identified child trafficking victims has increased. 

Further, GRETA urges the Hungarian authorities to take measures to improve the assistance provided to victims of trafficking by allocating adequate financing to NGOs and other non-state actors to whom the provision of assistance has been delegated.

The report also stresses that only one trafficking victim was granted a recovery and reflection period since 2017. GRETA urges the authorities to ensure that this period is defined in law in line with the Convention and is granted not only to formally identified victims but to all persons for whom reasonable grounds exist to believe that they are trafficking victims, regardless of whether they co-operate with law enforcement authorities.

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