Prosecutor Sena Uzunović: More than 30 million people are exploited in labor, among them are children

More than 30 million people are currently exploited in labor; children are also affected by this phenomenon, and the most common type of labor exploitation is that of children living and working on the streets, said the Prosecutor of the State Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sena Uzunović, at the Specialized Mentoring Session for Representatives of Local Teams implemented by Citizens’ Association Atina in five cities of the Republic of Serbia - Šabac, Niš, Vranje, Sremska Mitrovica and Subotica.

In addition to children, a particular group at risk are persons among the refugee and migrant population, which is why one of the topics was the distinction between smuggling and human trafficking, through examples from practice in the Balkans and European courts.

The case of labor exploitation of the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Azerbaijan case) was presented, within which 100 witnesses were heard only in the Prosecutor's Office of BiH, and 635 workers gave testimonies on the labor exploitation they suffered. The methodology created by a group of prosecutors for the purpose of filing an indictment and conducting an investigation was presented, along with the outcome of the case, i.e. 4 plea agreements for the criminal offense of human trafficking, and 9 persons currently in the appeal proceedings before the Appellate Chamber.

Sena Uzunović emphasized that non-governmental organizations greatly contributed with their expertise to have the case viewed in the context of labor exploitation. She stated that long-term support for witnesses, especially in cases that have been awaiting their court epilogue for a significant amount of time, is of immense importance, and that there must be an exchange and cooperation between all actors to ensure the safety and best interest of the victims.

Speaking of the challenges in criminal prosecution of human trafficking, Ms Uzunović pointed out three groups of issues: lack of court practice in cases of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation, insufficient knowledge of the issue of labor exploitation as a form of human trafficking by inspectors, police, prosecutorial and judicial bodies, and last but not least, balancing the role of a prosecutor and the victims' rights.

The greatest challenge faced primarily by prosecutors is the legal qualification of this criminal offense, as there is often ambiguity in practice between the act of violation of employment rights, fraud, labor disputes (civil liability, non-litigious procedures), or human trafficking, Ms Uzunović stressed.

She also presented indicators for recognizing labor exploitation (International Labor Organization). Particular attention was devoted to a distinction between the violation of labor rights and labor exploitation. The mentor pointed out a question of the International Labor Organization which can be a good guide and answer to the previously asked question, and that is: "Are you free to charge for your work at any moment?".

Answering a participant’s question on what she meant by “a difficulty in balancing the role of a prosecutor and the victims’ rights”, the mentor explained that she often encountered cases in practice, especially with prosecuting authorities, where a response to procedural requests causes neglect of the victims’ rights. She cited as an example frequent examination and calling of witnesses/injured parties to supplement their statements, and the like. In this regard, Ms Uzunović underlined the importance of planning and preparing for interviews with victims, reminding them of their rights during the proceedings, and considering the needs of victims throughout the proceedings, which is the responsibility of all professionals who may come into contact with potential victims.

Representatives of Local Teams were also interested in her stance on the children in the street situation in the context of labor exploitation. Ms Uzunović said that this is a growing issue, and that a lot of effort is needed for all professionals working on child protection to understand the correlation between begging and labor exploitation. She stated that many professionals apply measures from, for example, family law for the protection of children, but do not address this problem further to determine whether it is in fact labor exploitation or not.

The prosecutor emphasized the importance of labor inspectors, as well as the model applied in Bosnia and Herzegovina, stating that labor inspectors should not deal with the identification of victims, but that they are obliged to forward their minutes with the explanation of the current situation to the police and/or prosecutor's office every time they recognize indicators of labor exploitation. It is recommended for this exchange of information to become a practice in the Local Teams, especially among labor inspectors and prosecuting authorities.

The session was conducted with the support of the Council of Europe, within the project "Prevention and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings", which aims to raise the capacities of local actors to recognize and adequately respond to cases of labor exploitation.

The Council of Europe’s representative mentioned the activities of the Council in dealing with this phenomenon, as well as the importance of strategic and operational documents in the prevention, detection of victims, and processing the perpetrators.

Participants of the mentoring session were representatives of Local Anti-Trafficking Teams - representatives of the Higher Public Prosecutor's Office, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Labor, Employment, Social and Veterans Affairs, Centers for Social Work, National Employment Service, labor inspectors, market inspectors, as well as representatives of health institutions and local civil society organizations that may come into contact with a person at risk of labor exploitation in their everyday work.

If you recognize
that someone is a victim of human trafficking,
not to be silent and turn a blind eye!

Call and report the criminal offense of human trafficking via:

Citizens Association for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and All Forms of Gender-Based Violence

SOS hotline: +381 61 63 84 071


This campaign is a part of the project "Prevention and Combating Human Trafficking in Serbia" conducted within the joint program of the European Union and the Council of Europe "Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey II" which is implemented by the Council of Europe. The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of either party.​