ESTONIA: Tier 2
Estonia is a source, transit, and destination country for women and girls subjected to sex trafficking and for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor. Estonian women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within Estonia and in other European countries. Men and women from Estonia are subjected to conditions of forced labor within Estonia, elsewhere in Europe, and in Australia, particularly in the construction, cleaning, and social welfare sectors, as well as in seasonal jobs. Estonian children are exploited to commit crimes, such as theft; in some cases, they may be trafficking victims. Men from Ukraine and Poland are subjected to labor exploitation within Estonia, particularly in the construction sector. Vietnamese nationals subjected to forced labor transit 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 more convictions under the country’s 2012 anti-trafficking law and sentenced two traffickers to prison, though an additional two traffickers were released on probation. Law enforcement launched the first investigation into labor trafficking, but the overall number of trafficking prosecutions continued to decline. Authorities continued to require a police report be filed for presumed victims to receive government-funded assistance; this requirement resulted in a very low level of victim identification.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ESTONIA:
Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict trafficking offenders under Article 133 of the penal code; amend the Victim Support Act to remove barriers to victim identification; increase training for judges to ensure the judiciary understands the severity of the crime when issuing sentences; encourage police and the labor inspectorate to investigate labor trafficking, including labor recruiters engaging in fraudulent practices; increase government efforts to identify victims proactively, including the screening of individuals in prostitution and migrant workers in Estonia; encourage more victims to assist prosecutions by facilitating access to legal counsel; provide specialized training to police, inspectors, and prosecutors; and inform victims of the option to pursue court-ordered compensation from their traffickers.
The government improved law enforcement efforts. 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. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Estonian authorities launched 20 new investigations in 2014, compared with 26 in 2013. Investigators registered the first ever criminal case of labor exploitation occurring within Estonia in 2014; the investigation was ongoing at the close of the reporting period. The government initiated one prosecution in 2014, a decrease from six in 2013 and 12 in 2012. Estonian courts convicted four traffickers under Article 133 in 2014, an increase from two convictions in 2013. Two traffickers convicted in 2014 were sentenced to prison terms of four years, representing an improvement from weak sentences for convicted traffickers in 2013; however, authorities also sentenced two convicted traffickers to probation without prison terms. The government provided four training sessions for police, border guard, and labor inspection officials to facilitate cooperation on forced labor cases. Authorities did not offer training to the judiciary. Estonian authorities cooperated in one transnational investigation. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.
The government demonstrated weakened protection efforts. Since April 2013, a police report must be filed for presumed victims of trafficking to be eligible to receive government-funded 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 the victims’ care. In 2014, four Estonian victims, two of whom were newly identified during the year, received government assistance. The government identified no foreign victims in 2014. NGOs assisted an additional 20 sex trafficking victims and 43 labor exploitation victims who were not officially recognized by the government. Sex trafficking victims could receive non-specialized services for individuals in prostitution without going to the police; a government-funded NGO assisted 280 women involved in prostitution in 2014, 20 of whom showed indicators of trafficking.
In 2014, the social security board disbursed 20,421 euro ($23,200) to fund assistance provided to the four officially identified trafficking victims. In addition, the Ministry of Social Affairs provided 99,580 euro ($125,800) to an NGO providing services to women in prostitution, which included 20 women who showed indicators of sex trafficking victims in 2014. There were no specialized shelters for children, though child victims could reportedly stay at women’s domestic violence shelters or be placed in foster care. Adult male victims had access to accommodation, legal counseling, and other services. For at least the sixth straight year, no victims assisted in the investigation or prosecution of traffickers. Although foreign victims were eligible to apply for temporary residency for the duration of criminal investigations and legal proceedings in which they participated, no trafficking victim has ever applied for a permit since it became available in 2007. Estonia’s witness protection law allows trafficking victims to provide their testimony anonymously, but this has never been applied in a trafficking case. An Estonian court ordered a restitution payment of 150,000 euro ($159,300) to a trafficking victim. Observers noted obtaining legal counsel for victims was overly bureaucratic, and the lawyers were not sensitive to the needs of trafficking victims.
The government made progress in prevention efforts. The anti-trafficking working group, with 35 government agencies and NGOs, continued to meet regularly and published an annual public report of its activities. The government provided an NGO with 53,601 euro ($60,900) to operate an anti-trafficking hotline; the hotline received 497 calls from individuals vulnerable to trafficking during the reporting period. Authorities ran awareness campaigns targeting schoolchildren and prospective migrant workers. The government had a 2010-2014 national action plan for reducing violence, which included trafficking as one of its four objectives; the government approved a plan for 2015-2020 in February 2015. The government commissioned a survey of Estonians’ awareness of trafficking and used the findings to inform the development of the new action plan and outreach activities. Estonia acceded to the Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in February 2015, which enabled the Council’s monitoring group to conduct a future country evaluation. The government provided anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel. The government reported specific measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and forced labor, including educating employers on the rights of migrant workers.