Serbia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, including domestic servitude and forced begging. Serbian women are subjected to sex trafficking by Serbian criminal groups in northern Italy, Germany, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, and Sweden. Serbian nationals are subjected to labor trafficking in European countries, Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates, as well as in construction in Russia. Serbian victims are often subjected to trafficking by family members. Foreign victims of trafficking identified in Serbia during the past year originated from neighboring countries including Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova. Roma children in Serbia are subjected to forced begging and compelled to commit petty crimes.
The Government of Serbia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government investigated more cases of labor trafficking, increased prosecutions of trafficking crimes, and continued to convict trafficking offenders. It also increased funding for the government center dedicated to formal identification and protection of victims and made a significant effort to improve specialized care for child victims by training foster families in coordination with an NGO. Nevertheless, the government’s funding was insufficient to cover victims’ rehabilitation; NGOs continued to rely heavily on international donors to provide legal assistance and reintegration services to trafficking victims. While courts made improvements in reducing the length of trials, victims were not afforded sufficient protections in criminal proceedings against repeated victimization and intimidation.
Recommendations for Serbia: Formalize the roles and responsibilities of officials and experienced NGO service providers to improve identification and referral of victims of trafficking to services; ensure that courts implement the full range of protections in order to diminish postponements in hearings, witness intimidation, and secondary victimization; continue to train judges and prosecutors on the impact of trauma on victims; sensitize police and social workers to issues facing Roma children and families to improve identification and protection for trafficking victims; continue to improve efforts to identify child victims of trafficking in street begging; ensure all victims are provided assistance and protection; ensure that victims are not penalized for acts committed as a direct result of their trafficking; provide legal services support to victims of trafficking; and elevate the status of the national anti-trafficking coordinator to a full-time position with independent authority.
The Government of Serbia sustained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts in 2012. Article 388 of the Serbian criminal code prohibits both sex and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 390 of the criminal code prohibits “slavery or a relationship similar to slavery,” prescribing penalties of one to 10 years’ imprisonment. In 2012, the government reported prosecuting 45 criminal cases under Article 388, compared with 36 in 2011. Courts convicted 47 trafficking offenders in 2012 under Article 388, equal to the number convicted in 2011. Resulting sentences ranged from six months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment; only one sentence was suspended. The Ministry of Interior reported it filed charges against 65 trafficking suspects during the year, including 42 charges for sex trafficking, 13 for forced begging, eight for forced labor, and three for forced criminal activity. In February 2013, a court sentenced four trafficking offenders in an organized criminal group under Article 388 to terms of incarceration from 10 to 15 years and a fine of the equivalent of approximately $73,400, some of the most serious penalties imposed on trafficking offenders in Serbia to date. All but one of the 47 trafficking offenders convicted in 2012 were Serbian nationals.
Both the organized crime police and border police forces had specialist anti-trafficking units. Each police directorate in Serbia had an anti-trafficking unit; some also have multidisciplinary teams that included prosecutors, social workers, and health officials. The Government of Serbia did not report any investigations or prosecutions of public officials for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period. During the reporting period, the government accredited a training program for officials responsible for assisting trafficking victims. Judges, prosecutors, and other government officials participated in a multidisciplinary training with NGOs and international experts on investigating human trafficking cases and circumventing secondary victimization in the criminal process. In coordination with international donors, the government funded a three-week immersion training on human trafficking in the Western Balkans for cadets in Serbia’s police academy.
The Government of Serbia provided protection and assistance to trafficking victims during the reporting period; however, the government did not formalize coordination of stakeholders in serving victims, thus some victims continued to be punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The Government of Serbia identified 79 trafficking victims in 2012; a modest decrease from the 88 identified in 2011. Of the 79 victims, 39 were referred to NGO service providers. Eighteen victims were male, 33 victims were children, and 72 of the victims were Serbian citizens; 30 victims were subjected to forced labor, begging, or petty crime and the remainder were subjected to sex trafficking. The government increased anti-trafficking funding to the equivalent of approximately $81,400 in 2012 from the equivalent of approximately $54,700 in 2011. The government center for trafficking victims was fully functioning; the center’s mandate is to identify victims of trafficking, conduct needs and risk assessments, and refer victims to assistance and services. The government gave limited funding to NGOs that provided shelter, legal assistance, psychological care, and reintegration services. Victims of trafficking were entitled to free medical assistance in public clinics but it was unclear whether any obtained such services. Child victims of trafficking were served in two centers for children without parental care or in an NGO-run shelter. The Serbian government did not operate a specialized shelter for men, but offered men the same social services as other victims. Victim referral roles and responsibilities of service providers and officials continued to be ad hoc. Victims of trafficking were eligible for temporary residence permits for an initial period of three to six months, renewable up to one year, which were not contingent on cooperation with law enforcement. In 2012, one victim of trafficking was granted temporary residency in Serbia. NGOs noted the length of trials declined, but courts failed to implement many tools to reduce secondary victimization, including video testimony or prepared statements. The government collaborated with NGOs to train over 50 foster families on the special needs of trafficked children and to understand the impact of trauma on child development. The state prosecutor signed an Memorandum of Understanding with an anti-trafficking NGO on increasing the quality of services for trafficking victims and improving operational procedures to combat human trafficking. The government designated a prosecutor in each office to act as a point of contact for all trafficking cases and to collaborate with victim assistance providers in an effort to promote improved protection for victims’ rights. Some victims were punished for acts committed as a direct result of their trafficking. In one case, a court in Belgrade recognized a victim of labor trafficking who was coerced to commit a petty crime, but a court in Novi Sad simultaneously convicted the victim of robbery and sentenced him to one year’s imprisonment. An NGO noted that analysis of court documents showed that several convictions for prostitution cited use of force; however, these cases were not recorded as trafficking offenses. Children in forced begging were often charged with a petty offense rather than provided care as victims of trafficking.
The government continued trafficking prevention efforts through public service campaigns, using billboards on public transportation to educate youth on the risks of human trafficking, and sponsoring a poster contest, with international support, to raise awareness about human trafficking. The government continued to operate a hotline to collect trafficking tips for law enforcement. While the head of the border police functioned as the national anti-trafficking coordinator, this role did not entail authority to direct other ministries. The new national anti-trafficking strategy for 2013 to 2018 was developed in coordination with NGOs and relevant stakeholders; the plan was pending adoption at the end of the reporting period. The government did not demonstrate efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor during the year. Serbian nationals participated in required anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment on international peacekeeping missions.