Estonia is a source, transit, and destination country for women and girls subjected to forced prostitution, and for men and women subjected to conditions of forced labor. Estonian women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within Estonia and in other European countries, such as Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Young Estonian women who engage in false marriages in exchange for employment abroad may also be vulnerable to trafficking. Men and women from Estonia are subjected to conditions of forced labor in Australia, Finland, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, particularly in the construction, cleaning, and social welfare sectors, as well as in seasonal jobs. Russian-speaking men of undetermined citizenship were especially vulnerable to labor trafficking. Men from Ukraine and Poland are subjected to labor exploitation within Estonia, particularly in the construction sector. Vietnamese nationals who were subjected to forced labor are transported into Estonia en route to other EU countries.
The Government of Estonia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Estonian authorities secured the first convictions under the country’s 2012 anti-trafficking law, though the sentences for the convicted traffickers did not reflect the severity of the crime. The government offered more specialized training for a range of law enforcement officials, including the first trafficking-specific training for labor inspectors. Authorities implemented a new victim assistance mechanism, which requires trafficking victims to meet with the police in order to be eligible to receive state-funded assistance. Additionally, no foreign migrant has ever received a residency permit from the Estonian government, and during the reporting period, authorities detained foreign migrants it identified as trafficking victims in closed deportation centers.
Recommendations for Estonia:
Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict trafficking offenders; punish trafficking offenders with jail sentences that adequately reflect the seriousness of the offense; ensure victims can access state-funded assistance without initially requiring them to meet with law enforcement; increase efforts to investigate labor recruiters engaging in fraudulent practices; increase government efforts to identify victims proactively; ensure identified victims are not detained in closed government facilities; ensure potential victims are fully informed of their rights upon identification, including the right to apply for a residency permit; encourage more victims to assist in the prosecution of trafficking offenders by ensuring easy access to legal counsel for victims; continue to provide specialized training to police, inspectors, prosecutors, judges, and labor inspectors; increase the number of victims pursuing court-ordered compensation from their traffickers; and encourage the labor inspectorate to investigate labor trafficking and refer victims to care.
The Government of Estonia improved its law enforcement efforts by investigating and convicting more traffickers. Estonia prohibits all forms of both sex and labor trafficking through Articles 133 and 175 of the penal code, which prescribe a maximum penalty of up to 15 years’ imprisonment, which is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Estonian authorities conducted 26 new investigations and initiated prosecutions of six trafficking cases under Articles 133 and 175 in 2013; in 2012, there were 12 investigations and 12 prosecutions. Estonian courts convicted two traffickers under Article 133 in 2013, the first convictions under this statute. The traffickers’ sentences, however, did not reflect the severity of the crime; one trafficker received a suspended sentence and the second was released on probation after serving only six months of a four and a half year prison term. The government significantly increased the trafficking-specific training offered to law enforcement officials in 2013 through training sessions for police, investigators, prosecutors, judges, and labor inspectors; in total, approximately 100 officials attended these sessions. Estonian law enforcement authorities collaborated on two transnational trafficking investigations during the reporting period. The Government of Estonia did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
The Government of Estonia demonstrated weakened protection efforts. In 2013, the government modified its funding mechanism for victim support. In the new system, presumed victims of trafficking must file a police report to be eligible to receive services. The police thereafter have 10 days to meet with the prosecutor’s office; if authorities decide not to pursue a criminal case, the government ceases funding for victims’ assistance. Sex trafficking victims could receive non-specialized services for individuals in prostitution without going to the police. Government-funded NGOs assisted 22 victims of trafficking in 2013, compared with 21 in 2012 and 56 in 2011. Of the 22 victims assisted in 2013, 12 were women and 10 were men; eight were victims of sex trafficking and 14 of labor trafficking. During 2013, the Ministry of Social Affairs (MSA) revised the government’s victim identification guidelines in collaboration with NGOs; however, as in the previous reporting period, the police did not refer any victims to NGOs for assistance.
In 2013, the MSA provided the equivalent of approximately $125,800 to two shelters for trafficking victims, compared to the equivalent of approximately $153,200 in 2012. In addition, the Social Security Board was allotted the equivalent of approximately $92,600 to pay for medical expenses and substitute homes; however, it disbursed only the equivalent of approximately $6,100. Starting in 2014, the Social Security Board administered all funding for victim services, including shelter and counseling. There were no specialized shelters for male victims of trafficking, although male victims had access to other services, including psychological assistance, legal counseling, aid in contacting the police, and assistance in submitting various applications for assistance. There were no specialized shelters for children, though child victims could reportedly stay at women’s domestic violence shelters. Victims could leave the shelters unchaperoned. For the fourth straight year, no victims assisted in the investigation or prosecution of trafficking offenders. Although foreign victims were eligible to apply for temporary residency for the duration of criminal investigations and legal proceedings in which they participate, no victims applied for such residency in 2013; one NGO reported that no trafficking victim has ever applied for a trafficking temporary residence permit since the introduction of such permits in 2007. During the reporting period, Estonian authorities detained foreign migrants they identified as victims of forced labor in a closed deportation center. Estonia’s witness protection law allowed trafficking victims to provide their testimony anonymously, but this has never been applied in a trafficking case. Victims had the right to seek compensation from their traffickers, but no victim has ever sought restitution. Observers noted that obtaining legal counsel for victims was overly bureaucratic and that the lawyers were not sensitive to the needs of trafficking victims.
The government demonstrated modest prevention activities. The government provided an NGO with the equivalent of approximately $89,500 to operate an anti-trafficking hotline; the hotline received 558 calls from individuals vulnerable to trafficking. In October 2013, the government published an insert about human trafficking that was included in the major Estonian newspaper. A government-funded NGO offered free consultations with Estonians seeking to work abroad to verify foreign companies and educate workers on indicators of exploitation. While there were no investigations into labor recruitment companies, the government provided the first-ever training to labor inspectors in 2013. The anti-trafficking working group, which was comprised of 35 government agencies and NGOs, continued to meet regularly to discuss anti-trafficking policy and published an annual public report of its activities. The government had a national action plan on reducing violence, which included preventing and combating human trafficking as one of its four objectives. The government did not report any specific measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.