Croatia is a destination, source, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Croatian women and girls, some of whom respond to false job offers online, fall victim to sex trafficking within the country and throughout Europe. Women and girls from Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other parts of Eastern Europe are subjected to sex trafficking in Croatia. Children are exploited in prostitution. Roma children from Croatia are of particular risk of forced begging in Croatia and throughout Europe. Women and men, including victims from Romania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, are subjected to forced labor in agricultural sectors. A March 2013 report from the European Commission highlighted Croatia’s low number of identified trafficking victims.
The Government of Croatia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period the government increased the number of times the Committee for the Suppression of Trafficking in Persons met, increased criminal investigations and prosecutions, and mandated that children in prostitution be treated as victims, not criminals. While the government has an adequate formal anti-trafficking structure, significant gaps in implementation remain. The number of criminal prosecutions of traffickers remains low, and sentences for trafficking offenses were too low to deter criminals from human trafficking. Further, the government provided little specific information about the care provided to the minor victims identified during the reporting period, and experts still believe the true extent of trafficking in Croatia remains considerably higher than that identified by the government.
Recommendations for Croatia:
Continue to strengthen trafficking victim identification, particularly of female minors who are victims of sex trafficking; enhance training methods for collecting evidence against suspected traffickers to increase convictions; continue to train prosecutors on best practices for prosecuting trafficking cases; ensure trafficking offenders are punished with sentences commensurate with the gravity of the crime committed; sensitize judges about secondary trauma in sex trafficking testimony; conduct a comprehensive assessment of Croatia’s trafficking problem; and strengthen partnerships with NGOs to enlist their help in identifying victims during authorities’ initial contact with potential victims among women and children detained for prostitution offenses.
The Government of Croatia displayed mixed law enforcement efforts. Croatia prohibits all forms of both sex and labor trafficking through two laws: Slavery, Article 105, and Trafficking in Persons, Article 106, which prescribe penalties of one to 10 years’ imprisonment for sex or labor trafficking and up to 15 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of a child. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and are commensurate with those prescribed for rape. During the year, the government investigated 39 trafficking suspects, an increase from 30 in 2012, and prosecuted 15 defendants in 2013, in contrast to nine prosecuted in 2012. Of the 39 persons investigated in 2013, 20 were investigated under Article 106; 10 were investigated for Child Pandering under Article 162; six were investigated for slavery under Article 105; and two were investigated for international prostitution, prohibited by Article 178. Outcomes, however, did not reflect this increased activity, with six defendants acquitted in three cases and only one conviction in 2013. The one defendant who was convicted for child pandering was sentenced to six years and eight months’ imprisonment. This was a sharp decrease in convictions from previous reporting periods: in 2012, the government convicted eight trafficking offenders; in 2011, the government convicted seven.
The European Commission, in a monitoring report for Croatia’s EU accession, noted that Croatia’s sentencing for trafficking crimes remains lower than sentencing for other organized crimes, and thus was an insufficient deterrent. It urged increased training for judges, prosecutors, and civil servants on the identification of trafficking victims and investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases. These issues, and others, were closely monitored by the Committee for the Suppression of Trafficking in Persons, which was chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister and made up of other senior-level officials. In January 2014, the Government of Croatia outlined steps it had taken to address shortcomings, including enhanced methods of victim identification. Prosecutors must now inform the Croatian Chief State Prosecutor’s Office when they open a potential trafficking case, report on the status of the case monthly, and justify a decision to charge defendants under a non-trafficking statute rather than a trafficking statute. The government reportedly made staffing changes to increase attention to trafficking, including by assigning more operationally-oriented police officers to the issue and appointing a senior prosecutor with significant experience working on trafficking to coordinate the State Attorney’s Office anti-trafficking cases and activities nationwide.
The Government of Croatia sponsored a variety of anti-trafficking training for law enforcement during the reporting period. The Office for Human Rights and National Minorities organized and funded trafficking-related training for approximately 100 participants, including police officers, prosecutors, judges, social workers, labor inspectors, and diplomats preparing for assignments abroad. The training included two workshops for Croatian judges and prosecutors on secondary trauma of trafficking victims. The Croatian Border Police reported that 252 new Border Police Officers underwent three hours of trafficking-related training. The State Attorney’s Office reported that up to 60 Croatian prosecutors attended Croatian government-funded trafficking-specific workshops and seminars in 2013 as either participants or lecturers. The government conducted cooperative international investigations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Romania. The Government of Croatia did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
The Croatian government sustained its victim protection efforts, but failed to screen vulnerable populations effectively for trafficking victims, particularly female minors who were victims of sex trafficking. The government funded three NGO-run trafficking shelters: one for adults, one for minors, and one alternate shelter that also houses victims of other forms of abuse. The government also provided three reception centers to provide victims with care before they could be transported to the shelters. Adult victims were allowed to leave shelters without chaperones after informing staff and completing a risk assessment. The Croatian government provided the equivalent of approximately $73,000 to fund the shelters in 2013, level with the amount it provided for shelter care in 2012. Foreign victims were offered the same standard of care as domestic victims, including shelter, medical care, education, legal assistance, psychological care, and assistance finding employment. The government’s Office for Human Rights provided the equivalent of approximately $48,000 for victim assistance, professional training, and the anti-trafficking hotline.
Experts and government officials reported victim identification was inadequate in light of the suspected magnitude of the trafficking problem in Croatia. To remedy this, they suggested a comprehensive assessment of Croatia’s trafficking problem. During the reporting period, the government identified 32 victims of trafficking, up from 13 victims identified during the previous reporting period; these figures included six women and 12 minor females who were sex trafficking victims; and nine adult males, four minor females, and one woman who were victims of forced labor, including forced begging. Government-funded NGOs offered care to 12 of these victims during the reporting period, with six of them receiving accommodation in shelters. At least some of the female minors were not initially identified as victims of trafficking and were released to their families without treatment or counselling.
The Ministry of Interior issued a standard operating procedure to guide police officers in identifying and transferring victims, which includes instructions on activating the national referral system when indicators of trafficking are present. Experts reported that the procedures themselves are effective, but that police officers, in particular, need to do a better job in identifying victims. According to the Ministry of Social Policy and Youth, there was a specially-designated social worker in each county responsible for providing initial victim care and coordinating further assistance. However, experts reported that the actual assistance provided in reintegrating trafficking victims was arranged on an ad hoc basis, and remained limited due to lack of funding.
Croatian law stipulates that foreign trafficking victims must not be deported, and are to be issued temporary residency permits for six months to one year, which can be periodically renewed based on subsequent needs assessments. Foreign victims also are entitled to employment assistance, skill development training, and adult classroom education. Alternatively, Croatian authorities and the Croatian Red Cross assist foreign trafficking victims with voluntary repatriation to their country of origin. The government encouraged victims to assist in investigating and prosecuting traffickers, but as a matter of policy did not force them to do so. Victims are entitled to assistance, including temporary residence permits for foreigners, regardless of whether they testify in trials. Victims also have the right to free legal representation, can file criminal charges and civil suits against their traffickers, and are entitled to seek financial compensation from the traffickers under a new law. Experts reported judges are sometimes overly aggressive when questioning trafficking victims on the witness stand, especially in cases where the victim has changed his or her story between talking to the police and testifying. Experts reported that trafficking victims were sometimes initially detained by police, but were usually released immediately upon being recognized as a trafficking victim. The State Attorney issued written instructions in June 2013 that victims must not be prosecuted for crimes committed as a result of being trafficked.
The Croatian government continued efforts to prevent trafficking in persons, partnering with NGOs in the creation of a national action plan. The government continued to broadcast trafficking awareness public service announcements on public television. The Office for Human Rights and National Minorities also funded a new year-long public information campaign aimed at reducing the demand for women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation, consisting of leaflets, billboards, and posters on public transportation, taxis, and bus and train stations, sensitizing potential customers to the reality that many persons engaged in prostitution may be trafficking victims. The Office for Human Rights also funded the development of new anti-trafficking pamphlets detailing indicators, prevention, and reporting guidance that are being distributed to border crossing checkpoints, illegal migrants, and asylum seekers. The government’s efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex continued to focus on Zagreb and the popular tourist destinations along the Adriatic coast, particularly during the summer tourism season. The government reported no prosecution of Croatian nationals traveling abroad for the purposes of international sex tourism during 2013. All Croatian diplomats and personnel deploying overseas undergo mandatory anti-trafficking training before they depart for their posting.