Bulgaria is one of the 5 primary countries of origin of victims trafficked to the EU. Criminal statistics account for around 500 victims annually (404 for 2019., 443 for 2018 г., 508 for year 2017 in cumulative terms.) However, many victims of trafficking are not accounted for in criminal statistics as they have not been identified by specialists of the criminal justice system.
In Bulgaria in 2019, around 70% of the victims of trafficking have been subject to sexual exploitation, around 14% are the victims of trafficking of pregnant women for the sale of unborn child and 11% have been trafficked for the purpose of labour exploitation. Victims of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation are mainly women and girls. Around 87% of all trafficking victims are women and girls, which calls for a gendered approach to preventing trafficking and assisting victims. Europol warns about the innovative methods for recruiting and exploiting victims of trafficking during the pandemic, and the increasing role played by the internet and social media.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation with human trafficking by increasing push factors and by reducing government and civil society capacity to prevent and respond to the crime. The increase in unemployment has put many people at risk of exploitation and debt bondage. At the same time, the risk of human trafficking in supply chains increases as businesses in different sectors aim to reduce costs of production. Some of the key sectors, vulnerable to trafficking in human beings are agriculture, construction and tourism. Bulgarian victims are typically exploited in agriculture harvesting, construction, meat processing, in hotel industries and domestic care.
The UN has warned, that the the pandemic has also heightened the risk of trafficking for sexual exploitation, especially of women and girls coming from marginalised communities and ethnic minorities.
Children are at heightened risk of exploitation as those living in poverty are pressured to secure family income and may be pushed into forced begging or petty thefts. The increased time spent by children online due to closure of schools makes them vulnerable to online sexual predators.